Dentists use the term “root canal” when referring to the tiny, narrow passageways that branch from a central, hollow space in your tooth (aka pulp chamber) down to the ends of the tooth roots. The term can also be used as a shorthand for “root canal treatment” — that is, the procedure used to save the tooth if the soft tissue deep inside of it (aka pulp) becomes acutely inflamed or infected. If tooth pulp becomes acutely inflamed or infected because of decay or injury, the tissue will need to be removed in order to save the tooth and stop the infection from spreading. As an adult, you don't actually need the pulp — its primary use is to aid in tooth development during childhood.
Root Canal Procedure
After numbing the area, a tiny hole in the crown (top) of your tooth is made to access the pulp chamber and canals. The diseased tissue is removed, and the pulp chamber and the canal(s) are disinfected all the way to the root end(s). Teeth in the front of the mouth have one root and generally one canal; back teeth have two or three roots and generally three or four canals. Those canals and the pulp chamber are filled with an inert, biocompatible material, and sealed with adhesive cement. The access hole will receive a temporary filling.
We can perform root canals on a very limited amount of teeth. We generally refer patient to an endodontist.