Although it may not appear that way at first, your teeth are alive. Inside every tooth is a bundle of nerves and blood vessels. This tissue is called the pulp and it plays a vital role in the early development of your teeth. The pulp also allows your teeth to sense pressure, hot, and cold sensations.
Like all soft tissue, the pulp is vulnerable to infection. It’s normally protected by the enamel of the tooth, but if the tooth becomes damaged and the pulp is exposed, infection can occur. In such cases the infection can spread through the pulp into your gums and create an abscess. If the abscess isn’t treated the tooth could be lost. To save the tooth, the pulp must be removed in a procedure known as root canal therapy.
Root canal therapy is a common treatment used in endodontics, the field of dentistry that deals with the pulp and inside of the tooth. The therapy itself is simple. A small hole is drilled in the tooth and the pulp is removed with a special tool. Any infection is also removed or treated, and the tooth is cleaned to prevent reinfection. Then the tooth is closed with a filling and restored with a crown, if necessary.
Although root canals have a reputation for being painful, with modern advances in endodontics and pain management the procedure is normally no more painful that getting a filling. Speak to your dentist if you have any concerns about pain.