Within the centre of a tooth, protected by the enamel and dentine is the nerve chamber, which contains the pulp tissue of a tooth. The dental pulp contains the nerve and blood supply of the tooth, which are essential for the development of a tooth.
Root canal treatment involves removal of this pulp tissue after it has become inflamed or infected. The pulp tissue can become inflamed or infected through many different processes, including deep tooth decay, large fillings close to the pulp in a tooth, trauma, and even due to cracks in a tooth.
The most common symptom of pulp inflammation or infection is pain. Other signs include darkening of a tooth or the appearance of a swelling above a tooth. Very occasionally the pulp can die inside a tooth without signs or symptoms, however it is important any inflamed or infected pulp tissue is treated; if left untreated it will eventually cause pain and swelling.
The main advantage of root canal treatment is that, if successful it will treat any pain or swelling and save the tooth. The only other way to remove the pain or swelling is to remove the tooth.
After root canal treatment the tooth has been weakened, and it is often advised in teeth further back in the mouth that a crown is placed after root canal treatment.
It is a common misconception that root canal treatment is painful. With appropriate anaesthetic this should not normally be the case. Root canal treatment is one of the more demanding procedures a dentist undertakes, and so will normally take longer than a normal filling appointment. Occasionally after treatment a tooth can be tender as inflamed tissues around a tooth are healing. This is should be able to be managed by normal over the counter painkillers used at the correct dosage, however should pain persist you should return to your dentist.