Endodontic or root canal treatment (RCT), treats the inside of the tooth. It is necessary when the tissue within the tooth – called pulp, becomes inflamed or infected. The inflammation or infection can have a variety of causes: deep decay, repeated dental procedures on the tooth, faulty crowns, or a crack or chip in the tooth. In addition, trauma to a tooth may cause pulp damage even if the tooth has no visible chips or cracks. If pulp inflammation or infection is left untreated, it can cause pain or lead to swelling or abscess.
During root canal treatment, the inflamed or infected pulp is removed and the inside of the tooth is carefully cleaned and disinfected, then filled and sealed with a rubber-like material called gutta-percha. The tooth is then restored with a crown or filling for protection. After restoration, the tooth continues to function like any other tooth.
Root canal treatment doesn't cause pain — it relieves it! Before starting the treatment your dentist will imperceptibly and very slowly numb the area. Once this is done generally no pain is perceivable. In case of highly inflamed tissue, anaesthesia may take longer to act.
While opening up the tooth, a handpiece/drill is used which generates vibrations, the level of vibration/pressure sensations is similar to that for a regular filling which may be an unwelcome sensation but is not at all painful.
As there is no longer a pulp keeping the tooth alive, root-treated teeth can become brittle and are more prone to fracture. This is an important consideration when deciding whether to crown or fill a tooth after root canal treatment. In posterior (back) teeth where biting forces are greater, or teeth with a very large decayed portion, capping is generally recommended.
With proper care, most teeth that have had root canal treatment can last as long as other natural teeth and often for a lifetime. Because tooth decay can still occur in treated teeth, good oral hygiene and regular dental exams are necessary to prevent further problems.
The alternatives to root canal therapy include no treatment or tooth extraction.
There are risks to conducting no treatment such as pain, infection and the possibility of worsening dental infection such that the tooth will be no longer restorable (root canal treatment will not be successful). If extensive loss of tooth structure occurs, extraction may be the only treatment option. Following tooth extraction, options for replacement may include dental implant, bridge, or removable teeth.
Therefore, having root-canal treatments can save your tooth, restore its function and save you from other more complex dental treatments.