Myths About Root Canals
Myth #1—Root canal treatment is painful.
Truth—Root canal treatment doesn't cause pain, it relieves it.
The myth that root canals are painful started decades ago and has been perpetuated by the media. However, with modern anesthetics, techniques and technologies, root canal treatment today is quick and no more uncomfortable that a routine dental filling. In a recent survey, patients who have experienced root canal treatment were six more times likely to describe it as “painless” than those who have not had root canal treatment.
Root canal treatment is frequently done to treat acute cases where the tooth is causing severe pain. The pain is caused by damaged tissue or infection in the tooth. Root canal treatment removes the infection and the damaged tissue allowing the tooth to heal and eliminating the pain.
Myth #2—Root canal treatment causes illness.
The myth: Patients searching the Internet for information on root canals may find sites claiming that teeth receiving root canal (endodontic) treatment contribute to the occurrence of illness and disease in the body. This false claim is based on long-debunked and poorly designed research performed nearly a century ago by Dr. Weston A. Price, at a time before medicine understood the causes of many diseases.
In the 1920s, Dr. Price advocated tooth extraction—the most traumatic dental procedure—over endodontic treatment. This resulted in a frightening era of tooth extraction both for treatment of systemic disease and as a prophylactic measure against future illness.
The truth: There is no valid, scientific evidence linking root canal-treated teeth and disease elsewhere in the body.
A root canal is a safe and effective procedure. When a severe infection in a tooth requires endodontic treatment, that treatment is designed to eliminate bacteria from the infected root canal, prevent reinfection of the tooth and save the natural tooth.
- The presence of bacteria in teeth and the mouth has been an accepted fact for many years. But the presence of bacteria does not constitute "infection" and is not necessarily a threat to a person's health. Bacteria are present in the mouth and teeth at all times, even in teeth that have never had a cavity or other trauma. Research shows that the healthy immune system takes care of bacteria in a matter of minutes.
- Tooth extraction is a traumatic procedure and is known to cause a significantly higher incidence of bacteria entering the bloodstream; endodontic treatment confined to the root canal system produces much less trauma and a much lower incidence and magnitude of bacteria entering the blood stream.
- There is no adequate replacement for the natural tooth - it should be saved whenever possible. Root canal treatment, along with appropriate restoration, is a cost effective way to treat infected teeth because it is usually less expensive than extraction and placement of an implant. In most cases, endodontic treatment allows patients to keep their natural teeth for a lifetime.
But what about Dr. Price? This is a good example of how the Internet can give new life to long-dispelled theories. Believe it or not, the misinformation about roots canals that is found on the Internet is still based on Dr. Price’s century-old, discredited research. Dr. Price’s research techniques were criticized at the time they were published, and by the early 1930s, a number of well-designed studies using more modern research techniques discredited his findings. In 1951, the Journal of the American Dental Association took the extraordinary step of publishing a special edition reviewing the scientific literature and shifted the standard of practice back to endodontic treatment for teeth with non-vital pulp in instances where the tooth could be saved. The JADA reviewed Dr. Price’s research techniques from the 1920s and noted that they lacked many aspects of modern scientific research, including absence of proper control groups and induction of excessive doses of bacteria.
As recently as 2013, research published in JAMA Otolaryngology—Head & Neck Surgery, found that patients with multiple endodontic treatments had a 45 percent reduced risk of cancer.
Myth #3—A good alternative to root canal treatment is extraction (pulling the tooth).
Truth—Saving your natural teeth, if possible, is the very best option.
Nothing feels or functions as good as your natural tooth. If you are having pain and think the tooth should be extracted, ask your dentist if root canal treatment is a viable option. Once the tooth is pulled, it has to be replaced to maintain a healthy bite. It is virtually impossible to replicate the feel of a natural tooth with a denture, bridge, or implant.
In addition, root canal therapy is a cost-effective way to maintain good oral health. Even though it seems like tooth extraction is a cheaper alternative, the cost of replacing the extracted tooth often outweighs the cost of a root canal and a crown.
Furthermore, endodontic treatment carries a very high success rate, with many teeth lasting a lifetime once endodontically treated and crowned.
Millions of healthy endodontically treated teeth serve patients all over the world, years and years after treatment. Those healthy teeth are helping patients chew efficiently, maintain the natural appearance of their smiles and enhance their enjoyment of life.