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All about Root Canal


Root canal treatment / Endodontic therapy  What is "having a root canal"?



Root canal treatment, despite all of the misleading myths and misconceptions spread about it, does, in fact, provide an invaluable service. It allows a means by which severely damaged teeth can be saved.

So to help you understand how this is possible, our pages outline the individual steps of having root canal (endodontic therapy) and explain itstreatment goals.

Our pages also discuss issues such as why a dental post and crown may be needed after treatment, why therapy sometimes fails, treatment costs, and whether this or a dental implant makes the better choice. 

What is root canal treatment?

Root canal therapy refers to the process where a dentist treats the interior aspects of a tooth, specifically, that space occupied by its "pulp tissue."

Most people would probably refer to a tooth's pulp tissue as its "nerve," however, doing so is only partially accurate. While pulp tissue does contain nerve fibers, it is also composed of arteries, veins, lymph vessels, and connective tissue.

On our pages, so to use terminology that people seem to be most familiar with, we have chosen to use the terms nerve, nerve tissue, and pulp tissue as if they all refer to the same thing.

At this point:



Where precisely in a tooth is its nerve?

Teeth are not solid objects. Inside every tooth there lies a hollow space that contains its nerve tissue. Dentists use the following terms to refer to various portions of this nerve space:

A) The pulp chamber.

This is the hollow area that lies, more or less, in the center of the tooth's crown (that part of the tooth positioned above its gum line).

B) The root canals.

A tooth's root canals run from the apex (tip) of its root up to its pulp chamber.

The layout of the nerve space inside different types of teeth is quite different.

Teeth always have just one pulp chamber but the number of individual root canals that they have can vary widely.

Every tooth will have at least one root, and some have 2, 3 or possibly more. Each tooth root will have at least one root canal. The roots of some teeth, however, are well known for frequently having 2 or more canals. (Really, this variation is possible with pretty much any root.)


As examples of how varied the nerve space inside different teeth can be, upper front incisors (center front teeth), typically have just one root and one root canal. In comparison, most upper molars have 3 roots and at least 3 (and frequently 4) canals.

FYI: What does the number of root canals mean to you?

The number of canals that a tooth has will affect you, the patient, in the following ways:

  • The cost of root canal treatment is typically based on the number of individual canals that are treated. The greater the number, the higher the cost.
  • Treatment time is affected by the number of canals being treated. It is more time consuming for a dentist to treat a tooth with 4 canals as opposed to one just having a single canal.



What is the purpose / function of a tooth's nerve?

A tooth with completed root canal treatment.

You don't really get as much "feeling" from the nerve as you might expect.

A tooth's nerve tissue does have a sensory function. But this role is probably different from what you expect. Under normal circumstances the nerve tissue inside our teeth provides us with very little information.

Yes, when subjected to pressure or temperature extremes, or exposed to severe insult (like advancing tooth decay or the formation of a crack), teeth do respond with a painful sensation. But under normal circumstances, the nerves inside our teeth remain relatively "quiet."

You might think that if you push on your teeth with your finger, or else close them together, you feel a pressure sensation because of their nerve. Actually, this sensation comes from the nerve fibers found in the ligament that surrounds the root, not from inside the tooth itself.

That's why after root canal treatment has been completed, you'll never miss your tooth's nerve.

This implies then, from a standpoint of the normal functions we perform with our teeth, that the presence of live nerve tissue inside them is pretty much optional. If it's present and healthy, then wonderful but if a tooth has had its nerve removed as a part of root canal treatment, then that's fine too. You will never miss it.

There are some other functions that the nerve performs, not that you would ever know it.

Early on, a tooth's nerve tissue plays an important role in the formation and development of the tooth. Then, once it has formed, the function of this tissue becomes one of helping to preserve the tooth's health and vitality.

The nerve tissue helps to keep the organic components of the tooth's mineralized tissues (dentin and enamel) supplied with nutrients and moisture. It also produces new tooth structure (reparative dentin) as is needed to help to wall off and protect the nerve from insult or injury (such as advancing tooth decay).



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