Every year in the United States, dentists perform an estimated 15.1 million root canal treatments. Despite the fact that root canals are a common dental procedure, many people question whether these procedures are safe and can cause health problems, such as cancer. This raises serious public health concerns, since failing to address infected teeth with a root canal can lead to worsened pain or to the spreading of infection to vital organs. Knowing evidence-backed facts about root canals and their safety can help you make a more informed decision when it comes to your oral health, and that of your family.
Table of Contents
- What Are Root Canals?
- Are Root Canals Safe?
- Do Root Canals Cause Illnesses?
- Are Root Canals Necessary?
- How Successful Are Root Canals?
- What Are the Side Effects of Root Canals?
- Are There Alternatives to Root Canals?
What Are Root Canals?
A root canal is a dental treatment that repairs or saves badly damaged or infected teeth. Root canals can often prevent tooth loss and stop the infection from spreading to other teeth or parts of the body.
During a root canal, a dentist removes pulp from the inside of the affected tooth and cleans, disinfects, and shapes the “canals” inside the tooth’s root. Afterward, the space in the tooth is filled and sealed, and you can return to the dentist at a later date to receive a crown or other restoration that helps protect your tooth.
Root canals are typically performed on teeth that are cracked, have deep cavities, or may have other issues from previous fillings. You may need a root canal if you have one or more of the following symptoms:
- Tooth sensitivity, especially to hot or cold sensations
- Severe pain when chewing or biting
- Chipped or cracked tooth
- Tender or swollen gums
- Darkened gums
- Decayed gums
- Pimples on the gums
Are Root Canals Safe?
Dentists have been performing root canal procedures for over 100 years, and the effectiveness of this treatment for damaged teeth has been well established. However, the internet has led many people to become misinformed and question the safety and effectiveness of many medical-related procedures, including root canals. So, they often ask, are root canals bad, and can they really compromise your overall health?
Fortunately, root canals are completely safe, and can actually reduce your risk for other health problems by stopping the infection in its tracks. As years continue to pass, advancements in dental equipment, procedural techniques, and anesthetics are contributing to root canals that are safer and less painful than ever before. At present, there is no valid scientific evidence that links root canals to serious health problems or mortality.
Do Root Canals Cause Illnesses?
Many years ago, during the earlier part of the 20th century, a dentist named Dr. Weston Price presented research suggesting that bacteria can get trapped inside the tooth during root canals and gradually leak into the body over time to cause illnesses such as arthritis, kidney disease, and heart disease. From that point on, Dr. Price encouraged his patients to undergo tooth extraction instead of getting root canals to repair and save damaged natural teeth.
Dr. Price’s research has long been discredited, with a number of medical studies failing to back the late doctor’s theories surrounding the danger of root canals. In 1951, the Journal of the American Dental Association reviewed all scientific literature on root canal treatment to date and shifted the standard of practice accordingly to save damaged natural teeth. Researchers found that Dr. Price’s findings were lacking aspects of modern scientific research—making his data inconclusive and inaccurate.
Do Root Canals Cause Cancer?
Researchers estimate that by the end of 2019, 1,762,450 new cases of cancer will be diagnosed in the United States, and that 606,880 people will die from this disease. Cancer is scary, and it is understandable why many people want to know whether root canals can truly cause cancer.
The cancer–root canal link is another myth based on Dr. Price’s research from the early 20th century. To this day, no peer-reviewed controlled studies remain showing a link between cancer and root canals.
Are Root Canals Necessary?
A root canal may be necessary to prevent infection from spreading if you have a damaged or infected tooth. When left untreated, an infected tooth can increase the risk for infection being spread to other parts of the body.
If you are experiencing symptoms that you think would require you to get a root canal, schedule an appointment with your dentist immediately to receive an examination and discuss your treatment options. Tooth extraction is the only alternative to getting a root canal, but your dentist can discuss the advantages of a root canal over tooth extraction, and can review your anesthetic options such as sedation dentistry that can greatly reduce the sensation of pain during your procedure.
How Successful Are Root Canals?
Root canals have an overall success rate of above 86%, which may be even higher for you if your root canal is performed by an experienced, licensed, and accredited dentist. When performed correctly, root canals can eliminate your need for tooth extraction, reduce pain and infection, and help you achieve better oral health.
Practicing good oral hygiene following your root canal procedure may improve your outcome. Brush and floss your teeth regularly, and quit smoking if you are a smoker, since smoking increases the risk for your needing another procedure. People who smoke are nearly two times as likely to need root canals than their nonsmoking counterparts.
What Are the Side Effects of Root Canals?
After a root canal procedure, you may experience mild soreness and tenderness in your mouth and jaw for a few days that will gradually wear off. These symptoms are normal and can be relieved using over-the-counter pain medicines.
Contact your dentist immediately if you experience any of the following:
- Severe pain or pressure that lasts longer than a few days
- Loss of the temporary crown or filling on the treated tooth
- Visible swelling inside or outside the mouth
- Sensation of an uneven bite
- Allergic reaction to medication such as itching, rash, or hives
- Return of symptoms you had prior to the root canal
Are There Alternatives to Root Canals?
The only alternative to a root canal is tooth extraction. An extracted tooth can be replaced with a dental implant, bridge, or partial denture. However, these alternatives may be more costly than a root canal and require a longer period of treatment and recovery.
If you are scared or anxious about the idea of getting a root canal, please understand that advancements in health care have made root canals completely safe, more effective, and less painful than root canals performed years ago. An experienced dentist can answer all your questions about root canals and help you make an informed decision about your oral health.
Sarasota Dentistry offers a range of affordable dental services including cosmetic dentistry, emergency dental care, general dentistry, and more. Call us today at 941-929-7645 or fill out our contact form to learn more about our many services and treatment options.