It used to be called a "root canal" until the American Association of Endodontists redesignated it "Non-surgical Endodontic Therapy." It is the same thing, same basic process, same materials. Instrumentation, irrigation and filling techniques have changed enough to have alleviated a lot of the "experiences" folks used to have with "root canal" treatment so the specialty decided to give the procedure a new name.
The pulp, or soft inner tissue is important during the tooth's development. Once a tooth is fully mature, the tooth can survive without the pulp because the tooth is nourished by tissues surrounding it. The pulp is normally surrounded and protected by a layer of dentin.
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