A root canal treats diseases or injuries to the dental pulp. Pulp is the tissue in the center of the tooth. When the pulp becomes inflamed or infected, root canal treatment is necessary. Common causes of inflammation or infection are a cracked or chipped tooth, a deep cavity or filling, or injury to the tooth. All of these allow bacteria to enter the pulp which must be removed with root canal treatment, otherwise it may cause pain and swelling or damage to the bone that holds the tooth in the jaw. An abscess can form at the end of the root if the bacteria is not removed. When a root canal is performed, a small opening is made in the tooth in order to remove the pulp. The healthy outer structure remains in place and the root is filled with a material. A crown is often necessary after a root canal for strength or discoloration.
Dental trauma can lead to a root canal. If you experience pain while chewing or your teeth are sensitive to hot or cold foods, you may have a cracked tooth. A cracked tooth can occur from clenching or grinding or from an injury to your mouth. The pressure from biting down causes the crack to spread and open slightly causing pain to the tooth. Generally, cracked teeth need a crown for support. If left untreated, the nerve inside the cracked tooth can become infected and lead to root canal treatment.