The last time we posted, we talked about how root canals are a necessary procedure for the treatment of an infected tooth (signaled usually by a persistent toothache). We went over the procedure, as well as why a root canal is preferable to extraction because it keeps the natural tooth in place and is less invasive. Today, root canals are virtually painless and your recovery time is very quick. In our Edgewood, KY practice, we can even fit you with a crown after the procedure more quickly than ever before with CEREC Same-Day Crowns (which can be designed, fabricated, and placed within an hour, as opposed to weeks).

Hopefully we’ve convinced you that a root canal is nothing to be afraid of; what you should fear is what will happen if you put off a root canal for too long, or avoid it entirely.

The reason root canals are so misunderstood and feared by so many people has a lot more to do with how the procedure is perceived by the public, and those perceptions are often based on misinformation that is now spread more easily than ever, thanks to the Internet. We’d like to think that after a couple of decades, people would be more savvy about information found online, but that simply isn’t the case. This leads to the spread of rumors and myths about root canals that are simply untrue, either by well-intentioned people who don’t know any better, or by those who profit from that misinformation (more often, it’s the latter). These myths don’t just perpetuate the idea that root canals hurt, they also reinforce the completely false notion that root canals are dangerous.

Don’t Be Fooled!
In today’s post, we’ll tackle the root canal rumor mill head on, and pull back the curtain on certain misconceptions that keep people from getting the care they need, or even worse, drive them to seek the wrong care from an unscrupulous party.

Tooth Extraction Vs. Root Canal Therapy
Even with all the advances that have been made in dentistry that make many once-painful procedures virtually discomfort-free, and as our understanding of the relationship between the health of your teeth and gums and your overall well-being continues to grow, tooth extractions still happen. Today, teeth aren’t simply yanked out of your mouth; a tooth extraction is a very involved surgical procedure that can be very traumatic (even when safeguards against pain and discomfort are provided), has a lengthy recovery time (relative to many other dental procedures), and presents an increased risk of further infection for the patient. Tooth extractions usually only take place when a tooth has been damaged beyond the point of saving it.

When compared to a tooth extraction, endodontic therapy (another name for the root canal treatment) is a walk in the park. With modern anesthetics, technology, and techniques, a root canal today is at worst no more uncomfortable than a cavity filling for most patients (although this may not be the case if for example an infected tooth has gone unaddressed long enough for an abscess, a pus-filled pocket on the gums, to form).

However, many people not only believe that a root canal is dangerous, but that a tooth extraction is the better alternative for the treatment of an infected tooth!

Older Than You Think!
It’s a common belief that because something is online, it represents the most up-to-date information on whatever subject is being discussed. That’s simply not true of course, but many people continue to make that mistake.

It’s shocking, but the “research” that is used to rationalize root canal myths is old; much older than the Internet, and statistically, much older than the majority of people who are reading this post! The “root” of all this bad information is faulty medical research that was published in 1925 by a man named Dr. Weston A. Price (if you’ve looked up root canals online, his name may very well be familiar to you).

Dr. Price was an advocate of a controversial theory called focal infection theory. Essentially, focal infection theory says that serious illnesses, even including mental illness, are caused by microbial infections in other parts of the body. Dr. Price conducted many experiments on animals (apparently, his test subject of choice was a bunny rabbit) to prove that root canals caused a number of diseases.

When he published his findings in 1925, the dental community experienced a bit of an uproar, with many accusing Price of misinterpreting data that itself was based upon flawed experimentation. Even though many had questions about Dr. Price’s findings, the theory made its way into dental textbooks. Dr. Price recommended that extractions are the ideal way to treat an infected tooth. This led to a large number of tooth extractions (that probably didn’t need to happen at all) and a drop in the use of endodontic therapy.

It wasn’t long after he published his results that the scientific community began to really take a long look at focal infection theory, but by then the word was out; it wouldn’t be until 1951 (three years after Price’s death) that a detailed re-examination of his research methods and data revealed fundamental flaws in his experiments and his interpretation of that data. These new findings were published in the Journal of the American Dental Association, and dentists began to re-think and eventually abandon tooth extraction as the primary treatment for infected teeth, and returned to root canals.

Incredibly, over sixty years later, Price’s ideas continue to gain attention and advocates.

Root Canals Don’t Cause Diseases!
Price’s idea that root canals cause serious and deadly diseases is still alive and well today, spread by those who benefit from the confusion that those ideas create.

Online, you might have heard that a root canal can or will cause:

  • ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease)
  • Multiple Sclerosis
  • Lupus (and other autoimmune diseases)
  • Various Cancers (such as breast cancer, all forms of oral cancer, including cancers of the head and neck)

Or the patently false statistic that states that 95% of all cancer patients have undergone root canals (suggesting that the root canal was the cause of the cancer). This idea is especially ridiculous, because root canal treatments are performed so commonly in the US, it may actually be true that a large percentage of cancer patients have undergone root canal therapy. If there is any truth to that number at all, it’s a matter of coincidence, and to suggest a causal link between root canals and cancer (or any other serious disease) is a total falsehood.

There is absolutely no valid scientific evidence that implicates endodontic therapy as the cause for any disease.

Now For a Really Scary Story
Root canals are purely beneficial, very common, and thanks to technological and medical advances, virtually pain-free. You shouldn’t be afraid of root canals, but do you know what you should be afraid of? What happens if you avoid a root canal!  

Tooth Loss
A bacterial infection will eventually destroy the dental pulp; the tooth is effectively “dead” and will need to be extracted if it doesn’t come out on its own.

Formation of an Abscess
If you let an infected tooth go too long, an abscess will form. An abscess is a pocket of pus that forms usually near the root of the tooth. An abscess is very, very bad:

  • One, an abscess is incredibly painful, and will cause swelling of the face and neck.
  • Two, an abscess will cause bone loss in your jaw, or even make a hole in your gum, or even your cheek! The pus from the abscess will leak from this hole, potentially spreading serious infection.
  • Three, if you manage to live with the pain of an infected tooth and put off a root canal for long enough, you can develop a condition called septicemia. Septicemia happens when your immune system releases chemicals to fight an infection in the body. This can cause chronic inflammation inside your body, and that can trigger a number of catastrophic problems: septicemia will result in serious damage to many of your organs; often, this damage will lead to total organ failure, and a real potential exists that death will be the result (this is perhaps a bit ironic when you consider that this real threat to your health is somewhat similar to Dr. Price’s debunked focal infection therapy!)

Don’t Believe Everything Your Read! Trust Your Dentist and Your Dental Health Team First!
Are you experiencing a toothache that doesn’t seem to go away, or have your teeth become very sensitive to extremes in temperature? Do your gums look swollen, or have you noticed that one of your teeth is much darker in color than the others?

These are all signs of a serious tooth infection: the best option to save your natural tooth and your overall health is getting a root canal as soon as possible.

Don’t delay a potentially life-saving treatment because of online falsehoods and outright lies!
Call Edgewood Dental at 859-474-7830 now. New patients are usually seen the week they call, and we can provide emergency dental care if you’re in a great deal of pain.