Root canal refers to a component of an individual tooth that lies within the tooth's root. There are at least one and as many as four root canals in each tooth and their function is to connect the tooth's nerve (which lies at the tip of the tooth's root) to the tooth's crown (the visible portion of a tooth above the gum line). The term is also used to describe a specialized treatment in the branch of dentistry endodontics.
Endodontics or root canal therapy is an effective way of cleaning out infected pulp from a tooth. If the pulp of a tooth becomes damaged beyond repair it essentially means that the tooth has died. This damage is usually a result of a cracked tooth or a deep cavity and becomes visible if an abscess (a pocket of pus forming at the tip of the tooth root) develops. In this procedure the infected pulp must be removed from the pulp chamber and the root canals. The pulp chamber and root canals are then thoroughly cleaned and enlarged after the infected pulp is removed. A filling is then attached in order to prevent bacteria from entering the root canals and pulp chamber areas. A crown is placed over the tooth in order to retain the original shape of the tooth.
If treatment is not sought at that point there is a possibility that the infection of the pulp can spread to the root canals. In this case the bone holding the tooth will deteriorate and can lead to the falling out of the tooth. In these instances it is recommended that the tooth be extracted and replaced. A missing tooth will lead to the shifting of teeth to compensate for the empty space to the point where the existing teeth will become crooked. Due to the difficulty of cleaning between crooked teeth there is a chance that these teeth will become infected and eventually further tooth loss.