A root canal is the naturally occurring anatomic space within the root of a tooth. It consists of the pulp chamber (within the coronal part of the tooth), the main canal(s), and more intricate anatomical branches that may connect the root canals to each other or to the surface of the root.

At the center of every tooth is a hollow area that houses soft tissues, such as the nerve, blood vessels, and connective tissue. This hollow area contains a relatively wide space in the coronal portion of the tooth called the pulp chamber. These canals run through the center of the roots, similar to the way pencil lead runs through a pencil. The pulp receives nutrition through the blood vessels, and sensory nerves carry signals back to the brain. A tooth can be relieved from pain if there is irreversible damage to the pulp, via root canal treatment.

Root canal anatomy consists of the pulp chamber and root canals. Both contain the dental pulp. The smaller branches, referred to as accessory canals, are most frequently found near the root end (apex), but may be encountered anywhere along the root length. The total number of root canals per tooth depends on the number of the tooth roots ranging from one to four, five or more in some cases. Sometimes there are more than one root canal per root. Some teeth have a more variable internal anatomy than others. An unusual root canal shape, complex branching (especially the existence of horizontal branches), and multiple root canals are considered as the main causes of root canal treatment failures. (e.g. If a secondary root canal goes unnoticed by the dentist and is not cleaned and sealed, it will remain infected, causing the root canal therapy to fail).

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