It used to be called a "root canal" until the American Association of Endodontists redesignated it "Non-surgical Endodontic Therapy." It is the same thing, same basic process, same materials. Instrumentation, irrigation and filling techniques have changed enough to have alleviated a lot of the "experiences" folks used to have with "root canal" treatment so the specialty decided to give the procedure a new name.
The pulp, or soft inner tissue is important during the tooth's development. Once a tooth is fully mature, the tooth can survive without the pulp because the tooth is nourished by tissues surrounding it. The pulp is normally surrounded and protected by a layer of dentin.
Above the gumline, the dentin is protected by a layer of enamel; below the gumline, the dentin is covered by cementum. When a crack or cavity destroys these protective layers, the pulp is exposed to irritants and bacteria in your mouth. This can result in inflammation then infection, and, eventually, an abscess. Periodontal (gum) disease or a severe blow to the tooth can also damage the pulp. Endodontic therapy removes the damaged pulp and usually the tooth returns to a healthy condition.
If an abscess was present before treatment the healing process may take up to 2 years.
What Happens During Endodontic Treatment?
A local anesthetic will be given. A sheet of latex called the "rubber dam" (we have non-latex ones too) will be placed around the tooth to isolate it, hence keeping it clean and dry during treatment. The treatment consists of three or four basic steps, but the number of visits will depend on your particular case. Some treatments take 2 visits but many are just a single visit. Occasionally 3 appointments are needed. In any case, it depends on the degree of infection/inflammation and degree of treatment difficulty.