Mention root canal therapy (RCT) to most people and they cringe. Severe pain is associated with RCT. However, people do not realize that the pain comes from an infection in the tooth, not from RCT. In fact, root canal therapy is the best general dental care treatment to save a tooth from extraction once the nerve becomes infected.
The outer shell of the tooth is made of enamel, a substance harder than bone. Bacteria and plaque settle on the tooth, usually in the grooves or crevices where it is difficult to clean. Acids build up and eat away at the enamel. If this condition is not remedied, the decay extends to the next layer of the tooth which is the softer dentin. Once in this area, the decay spreads faster. Sensitivity to hot and cold and sweets may be present. As the decay gets closer to the pulp or the nerve of the tooth sensitivity may increase. Once the pulp is attacked by decay the tooth begins to die. When the nerve becomes infected an abscess may develop on the root apex. At this point the discomfort and swelling are serious. Only root canal therapy can save the tooth now.
It is easy to assume that RCT is painful because the pain from the infected tooth inadvertently becomes associated with the treatment. However, that is just not the case. RCT involves cleaning out the infected nerve, sterilizing the root canal, and filling it with a special material that keeps bacteria out. This process alleviates the pain and the source of the pain. Advances in dental technology and techniques make RCT virtually a pain-free treatment.