Root canal is a treatment to repair and save a badly damaged or infected tooth instead of removing it. The term "root canal" comes from cleaning of the canals inside a tooth's root. Decades ago, root canal treatments often were painful. With dental advances and local anesthetics, most people have little if any pain with a root canal. In fact, it's probably more painful living with a decayed tooth. Root canal alternatives include extracting the damaged tooth and replacing it with a dental implant, bridge or removable partial denture.