Root canal treatment (also called endodontics) is undertaken to remove an infection, and often the damaged nerve, deep inside the root of a tooth.
In the middle of each tooth there is a core of blood vessels and nerves called pulp. The pulp sits inside a space called the root canal. Each tooth can have one or more root canals. Your front teeth often have just one root canal, whereas your back teeth may have three or more.
If the pulp becomes infected, the infection may spread through the root canal system of the tooth. This may eventually lead to an abscess. An abscess is an inflamed area in which pus collects and can cause swelling of the tissues around the tooth. The symptoms of an abscess can range from a dull ache to severe pain and the tooth may be tender when you bite and can cause swelling around your tooth and jaw. Sometimes your tooth may look darker in colour than your other teeth, which means that the nerve inside your tooth is dead or dying. Without treatment the infection may spread further into your jawbone and you may need to have the tooth taken out.
In root canal treatment, the pulp and nerve tissue are removed from inside the root canals. The canals are thoroughly cleaned and then filled to prevent any further infection. Root canal treatment normally involves two or more visits to your dentist. If your tooth is particularly difficult to treat your dentist may refer you to a specialist endodontist.