There is a lot of misunderstanding around what a root canal treatment really is. Some people think a root canal treatment involves cutting out the roots of a tooth. Other think we make the tooth ‘dead’. In fact, most root canal treatments target the pulp tissues. Pulp tissue is a vascular tissue much like skin. It contains blood vessels and nerve fibers. Because of this fact, many people associate a root canal treatment with the ‘removal of the nerve of the tooth’.
The pulp tissues lie in the middle of the roots and crown of the tooth, circulating through the tooth much like plumbing. Most pulp tissues exit the tooth from the very bottom point of the root, or the apex, where they join into circulation with the rest of the body. This junction point where the pulp meets with the gum tissues which surround the roots of the tooth (called the periodontal ligament) is where the root canal treatment typically ends. Root canal treatments are typically indicated if the pulp tissue has become highly inflamed or has even died, both of which can happen following a deep cavity, a trauma to the tooth, a fracture in the tooth, following the placement of a dental restoration, or from advanced periodontal disease.
The periodontal ligament which surrounds the roots of a tooth and holds the tooth into the jaw is also a highly innervated tissue. Sometimes following a root canal treatment the tooth may feel almost bruised to biting pressures due to a temporary irritation of the periodontal ligament. This bruised feeling usually resolves on its own within 3-5 days. Following a root canal treatment, the roots of the tooth remain intact and connected to the living periodontal ligament, just as they were before the root canal treatment. The tooth is alive in this sense just as much as any other tooth in your body.