Stages of dental cariesThere are a couple reasons you might need a root canal. You probably know how you’re supposed to get a filling done if you have a cavity in your tooth. Dental caries is the process whereby bacteria destroy the tooth structure layer by layer, in the presence of a substrate and an acidic environment.

The lesion generally initiate from the enamel, the hardest and outermost layer of the tooth. Once the enamel has been infected, the bacteria proceeds to infect the second, more organic layer of the tooth known as the dentin. A tooth coloured filling is the treatment of choice for carious lesions that are restricted to the enamel and dentin – however, if left untreated and unremoved, the bacteria may continue to cause further destruction by invading and infecting the third, innermost and most sensitive layer of the tooth known as the pulp.

Once the bacteria enters the pulp, which houses the nerves and blood vessels providing sensation and nourishment to the tooth, the treatment of choice now becomes a Root Canal. A root canal treatment, or RCT for short is the only procedure that can save a tooth in case of irreversible pulpitis, which is the name of the condition given to a severely infected and inflamed pulp. The symptoms of this condition include severe, sharp and throbbing pain which may radiate to the temples and jaw, pain that is nocturnal and aggravates when the patient eats/drinks something hot, cold or sweet, swelling of the infection region with/without pus formation.

During a root canal, a dental surgeon removes the infected pulp entirely, cleaning the canals and removing bacterial debris. The pulp that once lay below the dentin is then replaced with an inert filling material, and the tooth is covered with a crown to protect it from further damage, and to restore its lost structure/strength. A root canal is thus a special kind of filling that is used when the pulp gets infected by caries-causing bacteria. Failure to get treatment in this case can result in the loss of a natural tooth, and other complications.