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A tooth is a living organ in your body, complete with nerves, blood vessels, and the ability to respond to its environment. When something harms the tooth significantly, the nerve of a tooth may become infected or inflamed which causes it to swell. The tooth is a solid object with little flexibility, so this swelling hurts. Once a tooth starts hurting on its own without temperature or sweets or the reaction to temperature or sweets lingers for a significant amount of time, your nerve may be beyond the point of repairing itself.
A root canal is simply a procedure where we clean out the nerve that is hurting, sterilize the tube inside your tooth it was in, and seal it off. The tooth stops hurting, the body retains it, and you can go on smiling and eating pain-free. Removing the nerve and blood vessels makes the tooth non-vital, and a common side effect of this is that it may discolor and will become more brittle. For these reasons, it is recommended to get a crown to cover and protect a tooth that has had a root canal.
I want to emphasize that a root canal gets you out of pain; it does NOT cause pain. It is a common and entirely false misconception that root canals hurt. Root canals do not have to hurt. You should be completely numb for a root canal. When you come in for a root canal, you end up feeling better, and you get to keep your tooth!
JAMES BURTON, DMD