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A root canal is the anatomic space within the root of a tooth. Part of a naturally occurring space within 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.
The space inside the root canals is filled with a highly vascularized, loose connective tissue, called dental pulp. The dental pulp is the tissue of which the dentin portion of the tooth is composed. The dental pulp helps complete formation of the secondary teeth (adult teeth) one to two years after eruption into the mouth. The dental pulp also nourishes and hydrates the tooth structure, making the tooth more resilient, less brittle and less prone to fracture from chewing hard foods. Additionally, the dental pulp provides a hot and cold sensory function. Root canal is also a colloquial term for a dental operation, endodontic therapy, wherein the pulp is cleaned out, the space disinfected and then filled.