Root canal treatment, also referred to as root canal therapy or endodontic therapy, is used to save an infected or damaged tooth and avoid having to remove it.
A root canal becomes necessary when bacteria from a cavity reaches all the way to the pulp at the center of the tooth, causing the pulp to become infected. Trauma can also cause deep damage to the nerve of a tooth. Once this occurs, the pulp becomes infected, and it begins to eat away at the surrounding bone (this is called an abscess).
The infected pulp must be treated and cannot heal on its own. An abscess can even weaken the entire immune system, making it very dangerous and painful.
Symptoms of infected pulp/abscess may include sensitivity to hot/cold or sweats, pain, swelling, pain with biting or pressure, and a bad taste in the mouth. Sometimes, however, there are no symptoms, and you are unaware of any problem until a checkup.
A root canal is performed to clean out the infected tooth pulp and disinfect the canals of the tooth. Once the infection is resolved, the canal(s) is filled to prevent any further infection. Crowns are usually recommended to cover and restore a tooth after root canal therapy.