Myths About Root Canals

There are many misconceptions surrounding root canal (endodontic) treatment. The American Association of Endodontists wants you to have accurate information. As always, when considering any medical procedure, you should get as much information as you can about all of your options. Your dentist or endodontist can answer many of your questions, and if you still have concerns, it is often wise to seek a second opinion.

Myth #1—Root canal treatment is painful.

Truth—Root canal treatment doesn't cause pain, it relieves it.

Most patients see their dentist or endodontist when they have a severe toothache. The toothache can be caused by damaged tissues in the tooth. Root canal treatment removes this damaged tissue from the tooth, thereby relieving the pain you feel.

The perception of root canals being painful began decades ago when root canal treatment was painful. But with the latest technologies and anesthetics, root canal treatment today is no more uncomfortable than having a filling placed. In fact, a recent survey showed that patients who have experienced root canal treatment are six times more likely to describe it as "painless" than patients who have not had root canal treatment.

Myth #2—Root canal treatment causes illness.

Truth—Root canal treatment is a safe and effective procedure.

Research studies performed in the 1930s and 1940s and those conducted in later years showed no relationship between the presence of endodontically treated teeth and the presence of illness. Instead, researchers found that people with root canal fillings were no more likely to be ill than people without them.1,2

Over the past several years, however, a very small number of dentists and physicians have been claiming that teeth that have received root canal (endodontic) treatment contribute to the occurrence of illness and disease in the body. This claim is based on the outdated research performed by  Dr. Weston Price from 1910-1930. His research stated that bacteria trapped in the teeth during root canal treatment can cause almost any type of disease, including arthritis, heart disease, kidney disease, and others.

The presence of bacteria in teeth and mouth has been an accepted fact for many years. But presence of bacteria does not constitute "infection" and is not necessarily a threat to a person's health.3 Bacteria are present in the mouth and teeth at all times, even in teeth that have never had a cavity or other trauma.

More recent attempts to copy the research of Dr. Price (and to check its accuracy) have been unsuccessful. Endodontics researchers now believe that the earlier findings may have been caused by poor sanitation and imprecise research techniques that were common in the early 1900s.1

These more recent studies support the truth we report today—that teeth that receive proper endodontic treatment do not cause illness.

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 can completely replace your natural tooth. An artificial tooth can sometimes cause you to avoid certain foods. Keeping your own teeth is important so that you can continue to enjoy the wide variety of foods necessary to maintain the proper nutrient balance in your diet.

Endodontic treatment, along with appropriate restoration, is a cost-effective way to treat teeth with damaged pulp and is usually less expensive than extraction and placement of a bridge or an implant.

Endodontic treatment also has a very high success rate. Many root canal treated teeth last a lifetime.

Placement of a bridge or an implant will require significantly more time in treatment and may result in further procedures to adjacent teeth and supporting tissues.

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. Through endodontic treatment, endodontists and dentists worldwide enable patients to keep their natural teeth for a lifetime.

People seem to cringe when they hear the words root canal. I know that I used to. But reading the truth about these 10 root canal myths can help you get a better sense of what having a root canal really is all about.

Myth #4—Root Canals Hurt

According to the American Association of Endodontists, the perception of root canals being painful began decades ago when root canal treatments were painful. Today, with modern technology and better anesthetics, root canal treatments are no more painful than having a filling. Knowing what to expect while having a root canal can help ease a lot of anxiety.

Myth #5—Root Canals Require a lot of Visits to the Dentist

With today’s cutting edge technology, most root canals can be performed in one or two office visits.

Myth #6—Crowns Cause Teeth to Need Root Canals

Many people believe that having a crown on a tooth means that the tooth will eventually need a root canal. Crowns do not cause the need for root canal therapy. If a crowned tooth does require a root canal, it could be that the tooth has abscessed or that decay has gotten underneath the crown and reached the pulp of the tooth.

Myth #7—Root Canals Cause Illness

There is no evidence to support that root canals cause illness. However, there is evidence to support the fact that people who have had root canals are no more at risk for developing illness than people who have never had root canals.

Myth #8—Root Canals Involve Removing the Roots of the Tooth

When the dentist or endodontist performs a root canal treatment, he or she remove the pulp from inside of the tooth. The roots of the tooth are not removed.

Myth #9—Pregnant Women Can't Have Root Canals

Pregnant women can and do have root canals. Having a root canal does require a small x-ray, but the radiation exposure is very minimal and the x-ray is aimed at the mouth, not the abdomen area. If you are pregnant and your dentist needs to give you an x-ray, he will use a lead apron to cover your belly. The anesthetics that dentists use are also safe for pregnant women. Be sure to let your dentist know beforehand if you are pregnant.

Myth #10—Even With A Root Canal, The Tooth Will Come Out Eventually

If you have your tooth properly restored, maintain good oral hygiene and visit your dentist for regular checkups, your natural tooth could last for the rest of your life.

Myth #11—If the Tooth Doesn't Hurt, There is no Need for a Root Canal

While a throbbing toothache usually results in the need for root canal treatment, many times a tooth can require root canal treatment when there is no pain present. Dentists and endodontists are specially trained to test a tooth to see if the pulp has been infected or damaged. If this is the case, a root canal would be necessary to save the tooth.

Myth #12—Pulling the Tooth is Better than Getting a Root Canal

Keeping your natural teeth for as long as possible is very important for proper eating and chewing functions. There are several options available for missing teeth, such as dentures, partial dentures, dental implants and fixed dental bridges, however, these alternatives can be much more expensive than saving your tooth with a root canal treatment.

Myth #13—After Having a Root Canal, My Tooth is Completely Restored

After having a root canal, it is extremely important to make a follow-up appointment with your dentist to have the tooth permanently restored. After the pulp of the tooth has been removed, the tooth can become very dry and brittle. Having a permanent restoration will help protect your tooth from fracturing.

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