What is a Root Canal?

That is a very common question I get, most people in fact think that a root canal procedure “removes the roots.” This is a misconception, a tooth with no roots would not be able to remain in the mouth because the roots are what anchor to tooth in the jaw (bone). I attached a tooth diagram to this post, I will go over the parts of the tooth as well as explain the procedure of a root canal.

As you can see labeled above, Enamel is the outer and strongest part of the tooth. It is able to withstand the many cycles of chewing in a lifetime and will wear down with time. Directly underneath it is Dentin which is a porous mineralized tissue that has little tubules within it. These tubules harbor the nerve endings that can detect cavities as well temperature changes that the tooth may endure. The innermost layer is simply called “the pulp.” This tissue is what is commonly referred to as “the nerve”. It is a part of the tooth that contains the nerve cells, blood vessels, and the lymphatic vessels that together form the pulp.

This area is normally sterile and does not harbor bacteria, however when a cavity slowly dissolves the top layers of a tooth it can enter the pulp tissue and initiate an infection. We will go through the symptoms of the infections in future posts, but generally speaking that is when most people seek dental care due to the severity of the pain associated with what is referred to as pulpitis (inflammation of the pulp) or abscess (infection of the tissues surrounding the tooth in the bone).

So after reading all that, I can now tell you that a root canal procedure is the process by which we access and clean the internal part of the tooth (the pulp) and fill it in with man made materials to inhibit the invasion of bacteria into that space. Most root canal treatments are not stereotypical painful experiences as you see in pop culture, however not all root canals are created equal. If you would like more detailed information or have a specific question you want addressed in the next post please leave a comment or use the contact page to send me an email. Depending on how popular this gets, I will dedicate more and more time to it in the future. If you enjoyed this article please share with your friends on social media.

Thanks for visiting and see you next time!

Dr. Cyber

Photo credit: Blausen.com staff (2014). “Medical gallery of Blausen Medical 2014”. WikiJournal of Medicine 1 (2). DOI:10.15347/wjm/2014.010. ISSN 2002-4436. – Own work, CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=29294597

Author: Cyber Endodontist

I am a practicing endodontist (root canal specialist) in Texas, I wanted to start a blog through which people can learn what an endodontist is and ask questions about root canals. There is a LOT of misinformation in the public, I wanted to help shed some light on endodontics.

2 thoughts

  1. In the last month, my dentist put a bridge on my lower left side. Immediately there after I was having pain in the area. I did not inform the dentist right away as I thought the pain would go away eventually. A week ago , i went back to the dentist and he made adjustments to the bridge and took an xray. He stated I would not need a root canal. As of today, the pain in my left jaw and area of the bridge was so painful. I called my dentist and he was on vacation. His office referred me to another doctor who was covering for my doctor. He took an xray and gave me the cold test which confirmed that I need a root canal. He gave me a prescription for antibiotics and pain medication. I am being scheduled for the root canal. My question is, was there anything my dentist could have done to prevent me from reaching this point. The 2 teeth that were shaved down for the bridge seemed to be fine prior to putting the bridge


  2. Hello Joe,

    I am sorry to hear that you suffered through pain, this is a common occurrence unfortunately. In most cases the teeth that get crowns or bridges aren’t in pristine condition to start with. Most of the time there are cavities or cracks that may be present even though you did not feel pain. In addition, the nerve inside teeth is very vulnerable to dental procedures and can be slightly affected from the drilling that is necessary to prepare teeth for crowns. Usually the pain/sensitivity doesn’t last more than a few days and resolves spontaneously. If the pain becomes unbearable, unprovoked by chewing or cold and affects sleep at night, then a root canal procedure is necessary unfortunately. This is because the nerve has a limited capacity to heal and can reach a point of inflammation that is “irreversible” which would eventually lead to nerve necrosis (death) and eventually an abscess which can be a serious medical emergency.

    I hope this gives you a better understanding of your situation. To answer your question, there are many different scenarios that could have lead you to this point. It is difficult to say if your dentist could have done anything to avoid all the pain that you have felt. It is normal to experiences sensitivity and slight pain after crown cementation, and usually dentist will wait to see if the tooth will spontaneously heal. In your case (as with many) it unfortunately did not. I am happy to hear that you are getting the proper care that you need. I will however, recommend that you see an endodontist for your root canal, they typically will be able to see you immediately if you are in pain and address the problem for you in a prompt manner. You can contact your dentist’s office to get a referral of an endodontist that they work with.
    Good Luck!

    -Cyber Endodontist


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