The center of your tooth contains the pulp. This is where your nerve tissue and blood vessels are located. Infection of the pulp can be caused by tooth decay, trauma (i.e. car accident, or a hard blow to the face), cracks and chips or repeated dental procedures. Harmful bacteria break through the outer portion of your tooth and open a cavity. If not stopped, the decay will continue toward the nerve of the tooth causing irreversible inflammation in the pulp, which then becomes non-vital. If the root canal is not treated at that time, it will result in an infection or abscess. If the abscess is left untreated, you may experience severe discomfort and the infection could spread to the surrounding bone. In general, symptoms of a pulpal infection can be identified as sensitivity to temperature, visible swelling, or pain in the tooth or gums.
If you experience any of these symptoms, your dentist will first test the tooth in various ways to see how bad the damage is and, if necessary, will gain access through the tooth to remove the diseased pulp. The root canal system is thoroughly cleaned and sealed with a special material so that the tooth can be restored. Since the nerve, blood and nutrient supply is now absent in the tooth this can make it brittle and prone to fracturing which is why a full coverage crown is recommended.
This procedure usually involves local anesthesia and may be completed in one or more visits depending on the treatment required. Root canal therapy is often performed by a general dentist. In some cases, when the treatment is more complex, an endodontic specialist may be required.