Root canals often get a bum rap. Although the procedure saves millions of teeth every year, it's often erroneously portrayed as an unpleasant experience. And if that wasn't enough, a long-discredited medical theory has found new life on the internet asserting root canals are a health danger.
First off, root canals play an immensely important role in treating teeth with advanced decay. If not promptly treated, a cavity can turn into a major infection of the interior tooth pulp and root canals, and ultimately the supporting bone. Teeth with this level of decay are not long for this world.
A root canal treatment stops this disease process in its tracks. After numbing the tooth and surrounding gums, we drill a small hole into the tooth's interior and then remove all of the infected tissue within the pulp and root canals. After disinfecting these areas, we fill them with a rubber-like substance called gutta percha.
After sealing off the access hole—and later capping the tooth with a life-like crown—the tooth is secure from further decay. And, by the way, the procedure doesn't hurt, thanks to local anesthesia. If anything, any pain caused by the decay attacking the tooth's nerves has now been alleviated.
So, what about the idea floating on the Web that root canals are dangerous? The "root" for this conjecture is a theory by Weston Price, an early 20th Century dentist, that leaving a "dead" body part in the body leads to various health problems (including cancer). That would include a root-canaled tooth, which has had the living tissue in the pulp removed.
There's just one problem—Weston's theory was fully investigated in the 1950s and overwhelmingly discredited. The supposed cancer threat was also reviewed in a 2013 study, which found no link between root canals and increased cancer risk. In fact, dental patients who had undergone several root canals had a diminished risk.
Like all other health procedures, root canals have some risks of complication. But those complications are far from life-threatening—it's tooth-saving benefits are often worth the risk. So, fear not if your dentist says you need a root canal. It won't hurt and it won't endanger your health—and it could save your tooth.
If you would like more information on root canal therapy, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Root Canal Safety.”