Root canal treatment also referred to as root canal therapy or endodontic therapy, is used to save an infected or damaged tooth to avoid having to remove it. A root canal is a procedure that removes the nerve and blood vessels, and shapes and cleans the canal of the root. This becomes necessary when an infection reaches all the way to the pulp at the center of the tooth. Once the pulp chamber of a tooth becomes infected, the tooth cannot heal itself. Without treatment by a dentist, the infection will spread out of the tooth and into the bone of the jaw. Regular cleanings and checkups detect infections early and prevent the need for root canals.
Trauma can also cause deep damage to the nerve of a tooth. Once this occurs, the pulp can become infected, and it begins to eat away at the surrounding bone (this is called an abscess). By the time the pulp is infected, it must be treated, and cannot heal on its own. It can even weaken the entire immune system, making it very painful and dangerous to your health.
Symptoms of infected pulp may include sensitivity to hot/cold or sweets, pain, swelling, pain with biting or pressure, and a bad taste in the mouth. Sometimes, however, there are no symptoms, and you are unaware of any problem until a checkup.
A root canal is performed to clean out the infected tooth pulp and disinfect the canals of the tooth. The only other treatment would be to extract the tooth. Once the infection is resolved, the canal is filled to prevent any further infection. Crowns are usually recommended to cover and restore a tooth after root canal therapy.