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What is a root canal?

Root Canal

A root canal is an outpatient dental procedure that treats decay and infection deep inside your tooth. The roots of your teeth contain a tissue called pulp. The pulp contains nerves, blood vessels and other tissues. If your tooth is cracked, injured or decayed, the pulp can become infected. A root canal saves the tooth by cleaning out infected pulp and sealing the tooth to prevent further problems.

A root canal is generally safe, but there are risks and potential complications. It is only one method used to treat tooth decay and infection. Discuss all of your treatment options with your dentist to understand which options are right for you.  

Other procedures that may be performed

Your dentist may use a few different methods to assess the extent of the damage to your tooth before a root canal. The tests and devices used include:

  • Apex locators are devices used to measure the length of root canals.
  • Electric pulp testing helps determine the extent of disease and if pulp within your tooth is alive or not.
  • X-rays are imaging tests that use radiation to make pictures of the inside of your mouth and teeth.
Medical Reviewers: Nicole Holland DDS, MS Last Review Date: Mar 4, 2013

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Medical References

Crowns. Colgate Oral Health and Dental Resource Center. http://www.colgate.com/app/CP/US/EN/OC/Information/Articles/Oral-and-Dental-Health-Basics/Checkups-and-Dental-Procedures/Crowns-Bridges/article/Crowns.cvsp. Accessed January 3, 2013.
Crowns. Mouth Healthy by the American Dental Association. http://www.mouthhealthy.org/en/az-topics/c/Crowns.aspx. Accessed January 3, 2013.
Dental Crowns. The Cleveland Clinic. http://my.clevelandclinic.org/services/cosmetic_dentistry/hic_dental_crowns.aspx. Accessed January 3, 2013.
Myths about Root Canals and Root Canal Pain. American Association of Endodontists. http://www.aae.org/Patients/Myths_About_Root_Canals_and_Root_Canal_Pain.aspx. Accessed January 3, 2013.
Root Canal Treatment. Colgate Oral Health and Dental Resource Center. http://www.colgate.com/app/CP/US/EN/OC/Information/Articles/Oral-and-Dental-Health-Basics/Checkups-and-Dental-Procedures/Root-Canal-Treatment/article/Root-Canal-Treatment.cvsp. Accessed January 3, 2013.
Root Canals. American Association of Endodontists. http://www.aae.org/Patients/Root_Canals.aspx. Accessed January 3, 2013.
Root Canals. Mouth Healthy by the American Dental Association. http://www.mouthhealthy.org/en/az-topics/r/root-canals.aspx. Accessed January 3, 2013.
Tell Me More About Dental Crowns. Colgate Oral Health and Dental Resource Center. http://www.colgate.com/app/CP/US/EN/OC/Information/Articles/Oral-and-Dental-Health-Basics/Checkups-and-Dental-Procedures/Crowns-Bridges/article/Tell-Me-More-about-Dental-Crowns.cvsp. Accessed January 3, 2013.
What is Root Canal Treatment? Colgate Oral Health and Dental Resource Center. http://www.colgate.com/app/CP/US/EN/OC/Information/Articles/Oral-and-Dental-Health-Basics/Checkups-and-Dental-Procedures/Root-Canal-Treatment/article/What-is-Root-Canal-Treatment.cvsp. Accessed January 3, 2013.

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