When you're a student in school, you get used to being evaluated. Every six to nine weeks, you get a report card that tells you and your parents how well you've done on completing your homework and taking tests.

Evaluation doesn't end when you leave school, though. Can you think of any other situations in which you want to receive a good report? How about when you go to the dentist? If you've been avoiding too many sweets and brushing regularly, the dentist will hopefully give you a thumbs-up on your check-up.

If you have cavities or other problems, though, you may be looking at some additional time in the dentist's chair. For example, certain problems may require a procedure known as a root canal. While the words "root canal" may strike terror in the hearts of some, modern dental technology has advanced to the point where a root canal has become a routine procedure that no one needs to fear.

While you naturally focus on the outside of your teeth, since that's all you can see, it's also possible for the inside of your tooth to need attention. Below the outer layer of white enamel and the hard layer of dentin lies an area of soft tissue called the pulp. The pulp inside a tooth contains blood vessels, nerves, and connective tissues.

Each tooth has a nerve that enters from the tip of its root. The nerve travels from the tip of the root into the pulp in small, thin areas known as root canals. Each tooth will have from one to four root canals.

If you have a deep cavity, a crack or chip, or some other form of deep trauma to a tooth, the pulp can become infected and inflamed. When this occurs, pressure can build up inside the tooth with no means of release. This can result in tooth pain when you bite, chew, or encounter hot or cold food or drinks.

To relieve the pain and save your tooth, a dentist will likely recommend a root canal procedure, also known as endodontic treatment. Most dentists routinely perform root canal procedures, although special cases may be referred to specialists known as endodontists.

During a root canal procedure, a hole is drilled in the top of the tooth down into the pulp chamber. The damaged pulp is removed and the entire area, including the root canals, is cleaned and disinfected. If necessary, medication may be injected into the area to fight any remaining bacterial infection.

When the pulp chamber has been thoroughly cleansed, it is refilled and sealed with gutta-percha, which is a special rubber-like substance. To finish restoring the tooth, a crown or filling is installed. When the procedure is complete and the tooth is healed, it will continue to function just like your other teeth.

Although a root canal might not sound like much fun, it's actually a very routine procedure. Thanks to modern technology and advanced numbing agents, getting a root canal isn't necessarily much different than getting a filling. So if your dentist recommends a root canal, don't fret. It's much better than the alternative, which is losing your tooth!

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