Root Canals

Root canal therapy is a dental treatment that is used to repair and save a tooth that had badly decayed or become infected. During a root canal procedure, the inflamed or infected pulp is removed from the center of the tooth, carefully cleaned and shaped, and then filled and sealed with protective material to prevent future infection. Without treatment, the tissue surrounding the tooth will become infected and abscesses may form.

The “root canal” is the natural cavity within the center of the tooth. The pulp or pulp chamber is the soft area within the root canal. The tooth’s nerve lies within the root canal. When nerve tissue or pulp is damaged, it breaks down and can get infected with bacteria that can cause an abscessed tooth. In addition to an abscess, an infection in the root canal of a tooth can cause:

  • Swelling that may spread to other areas of the face, neck, or head
  • Bone loss around the tip of the root
  • Drainage problems extending outward from the root. A hole can develop through the side of the tooth, resulting in drainage into the gums or through the cheek with drainage into the skin

Common Symptoms

  • Severe toothache pain upon chewing or application of pressure
  • Prolonged sensitivity/pain to heat or cold temperatures (after the hot or cold has been removed)
  • Discoloration (a darkening) of the tooth
  • Swelling and tenderness in the nearby gums
  • A persistent or recurring pimple on the gums


A root canal requires one or more office visits and involves the following steps:

  1. An x-ray is taken to see the shape of the root canals and determine if there are any signs of infection in a surrounding bone.
  2. The tooth is numbed to ensure no pain, and an access hole is drilled into the tooth to remove the pulp along with bacteria and related debris.
  3. After thoroughly cleaning with water and disinfectants, the canal is reshaped and sealed to ensure no recurrence of the infection.
  4. External restoration of the damaged tooth structure is completed (usually with a large filling or a crown) to prevent further damage to the remaining fragile tooth and restore it to full function.