The crown of the tooth is made up of the hard, white, enamel layer and a thicker dentine layer. Both these hard layers protect the innermost soft tissues of the tooth called the pulp. The dental pulp contains blood vessels and nerves within and extends from the crown to the tips of the root or roots.
Your dentist might recommend root canal treatment if the pulp of your tooth is infected or inflamed. This can happen if the tooth decay is very deep, if there’s extensive trauma to the tooth, if the tooth enamel and dentine on the outside of the tooth gets excessively worn down, or sometimes as a result of severe gum disease.
Damage to the tooth pulp may or may not have symptoms. If there are symptoms, this may include pain, prolonged sensitivity to heat or cold, tooth discoloration, swollen or tender gums, or a bad taste in the mouth. If the damage isn’t treated, it can eventually cause pain, swelling and loss of the supporting bone.
Root canal treatment saves teeth that would otherwise have been extracted. The tooth is anaesthetised while you’re undergoing treatment, so it won’t be painful. Afterwards, your tooth might be tender for a few days. This can be relieved with over-the-counter painkillers, but if the pain persists and is severe, or if swelling occurs, you should go back to the dentist.