Root canals within your teeth carry pulp material that contains vital tissue, nerve, and blood cells that keep the tooth healthy and alive. Damage to or infection within the pulp can cause pain, allow infection to spread, and can threaten the health of the tooth. Root canal procedures are used to remove any damaged pulp to minimize the potential threat to the tooth.

There are a couple of different root canal procedures your dentist can use to protect your tooth. The procedures differ in the amount of pulp that is removed.


A pulpotomy is sometimes called a mini root canal because the procedure involves removing less pulp material than other types of root canal procedures. The dentist will recommend a pulpotomy if only the uppermost pulp has been damaged by trauma or infection.

For a pulpotomy, the dentist will only remove the pulp within the crown -- or the white part of your tooth you see when looking in your mouth. Pulp actually extends below the crown and into the roots. But if there's no damage that low, the dentist can focus treatment in the upper part of the tooth.

The pulp is removed via a drilled hole in the crown. Your dentist will use a special scraping tool to remove the pulp then clean the emptied canal with an antiseptic wash. A bio-safe cement is then used to seal up that part of the canal to prevent future infections from spreading back up into the tooth.

Leaving the pulp in the roots untouched means that the tooth gets to remain alive and so it isn't as drastic of a treatment as a traditional root canal procedure or a pulpectomy. A pulpotomy can also help counteract damage from a deep cavity or exterior tooth chipping.


A pulpectomy is closer to what most consider a traditional root canal. The pulp from both the crown and the rights is removed due to significant damage or infection. So the entire canal will need to be filled with a bio-safe cement to prevent future infections from entering the canal.

A pulpectomy all but kills the tooth due to the loss of vital tissues. This procedure is only used when the tooth is in dire risk of total death, which would require extraction. Serious recurring infections or trauma that has vertically fractured the root canal are potential reasons for a pulpectomy to be ordered.