Root canals are tiny passageways that branch off from beneath the top of the tooth, coursing their way vertically downward until they reach the tip of the root.
All teeth have between one and four root canals.
Many tooth problems involve infections that spread to the pulp, which is the inner chamber of the tooth containing blood vessels, nerves and other tissues. When the infection becomes worse, it can begin affecting the roots. A traumatic injury to a tooth can also compromise the pulp, leading to similar problems.
A diseased inner tooth brings a host of problems. Pain and sensitivity are some of the first indications of a problem, while inside, a spreading infection can cause small pockets of pus to develop, leading to an abscess.
Signs to look for include pain, prolonged sensitivity to heat or cold, tenderness to touch and chewing, discoloration of the tooth, and swelling, drainage and tenderness in the lymph nodes as well as nearby bone and gingival tissues. Sometimes, however, there are no symptoms.
Root canal therapy is a remarkable treatment with a very high rate of success. It involves removing the diseased tissue, halting the spread of infection, and restoring the healthy portion of the tooth. In fact, root canal therapy is designed to save a problem tooth; before the procedure was developed and gained acceptance, the only alternative for treating a diseased tooth was extraction.