A root canal is a procedure that specialized dentists (or endodontic specialists) perform to repair and save a severely decayed or broken tooth. The "root canal" itself refers specifically to the space inside your tooth that contains the soft innards (pulp) and nerves. In a healthy tooth, this pulp is usually encased in a material called dentin, which in turn is protected by a layer of enamel. When unchecked tooth decay or some type of crack exposes the pulp, it is then in danger of inflammation, infection, abscesses (pus-filled areas of infection), and in severe cases, death of the pulp itself.
Root Canals are indicated when severe decay has invaded the root canal, which houses nerve, pulp and soft areas within the canal. This decay can lead to infection, abscess and loss of tooth. An endodontist will remove these diseased tissues and clean the canal to prevent or eliminate infection. The canal is then sealed with a hard thermoplastic latex. Your general dentist may refer you to an endodontist, a dentist with advanced training who specializes in the soft tissues and root canals of the teeth.
When a general dentist encounters a case of damage to the nerves or blood vessels that are in the pulp inside the tooth, he might refer a patient to a specialist called an endodontist. Endodontists, who have had additional training beyond general dentistry, perform specialized treatments such as root canals that can save teeth that have become diseased, injured or rotted.
The procedure is fairly straightforward. The dentist or endodontic specialist will numb the area or provide sedation. She then drills a hole into the crown of the tooth. Using the x-rays taken of the tooth or an apex locator (which uses electrical current to measure root canals) she calculates the length of the actual root canals, since they will need to be cleaned and filled all the way to the bottom.