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Once upon a time, if you had a tooth with a diseased nerve, you'd probably lose that tooth. Today, with a special dental procedure called a root canal therapy you may save that tooth. Inside each tooth is the pulp which provides nutrients and nerves to the tooth, it runs like a thread down through the root. When the pulp is diseased or injured, the pulp tissue dies. If you don't remove it, your tooth gets infected and you could lose it. After the dentist removes the pulp, the root canal is cleaned and sealed off to protect it. Then your dentist places a crown over the tooth to help make it stronger.

Most of the time, a root canal is a relatively simple procedure with little or no discomfort involving one to three visits. Best of all, it can save your tooth and your smile!

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Illustrations: Root Canal Treatment From Start to Finish

1.  A Deep Infection
Root canal treatment is needed when the tooth's root becomes infected or inflamed through injury or advanced decay.

2.  A Route to the Root
The tooth is anesthetized. An opening is made through the crown of the tooth to the pulp chamber.

3.  Removing the Infected/Inflamed Tissue
Special files are used to clean the infection and unhealthy pulp out of the canals. Irrigation is used to help clean the main canal (called lateral canals).

4.  Filling the Canals
The canals are filled with a permanent material, often gutta-percha. This helps to keep the canals free of infection or contamination.

5.  Rebuilding the Tooth
A temporary filling material is placed on top of the gutta-percha to seal the opening until the tooth is ready to be prepared for a crown. A crown, sometimes called a cap, is made to look like a natural tooth, and is placed on top.

6.  Extra Support
In some cases, a post is placed to give the crown extra support

7.  The Crowning Touch
The crown is cemented into place.

©2002-2005 Aetna, Inc. All rights reserved.

Reviewed by the faculty of Columbia University College of Dental Medicine2/23/2005