Just the words "root canal" can cause fear in the hearts of dental patients – even those who don't ordinarily have dental phobias. It's no surprise – if your dentist tells you that you need a root canal, it's very likely that you're already dealing with pain or an infection, and the idea of your dentist digging deep into your tooth roots on top of that can be very unsettling. But it may also be that you've heard some untrue things about root canals. Take a look at some common root canal myths and find out why you can safely ignore them from now on.
Myth: Root Canals Cause Disease
It's possible that you received an email forward or saw an article posted on your favorite social media site warning that root canals are linked to various diseases, most notably cancer. But what you probably don't know is that this myth is much older than email or social media – it goes back to a dentist and researcher named Weston Price, who developed the theory in the early 1900s.
Dr. Price's research included, among other things, planting an extracted tooth under the skin of a rabbit. As you might guess, that research does not stand up well against modern dental research. Dr. Price's theory that root canals were linked to disease had become less popular by the time he died in 1948, and a few years later, it was nothing more than a fringe theory. No legitimate scientific evidence has ever validated the idea that root canals cause cancer or other diseases. However, there is a 2013 study that showed patients who'd had multiple root canals had their risk of cancer reduced by 45%. If your dentist recommends a root canal, you can have it done without fear that you're risking your future health.
Myth: Extracting the Tooth Is Easier and Safer Than A Root Canal
Extractions are an alternative to a root canal, but they aren't an especially good alternative. If your dentist recommends a root canal, it means that your natural tooth can be saved. It's always better to save the natural tooth when you can. Tooth extractions carry a higher risk of introducing bacteria into your blood stream than a root canal, so they're definitely not a safer alternative. Additionally, an extraction means going back to the dentist to have the tooth replaced with a bridge, an implant, or some other tooth replacement option. A root canal can often be completed in only one visit. That means an extraction isn't easier, either.
Extracting the tooth and not replacing it with something wouldn't be recommended by most dentists. Missing teeth can lead to bone loss and "drift" where the surrounding teeth begin to lean into the gap, causing misalignment. These problems will lead to the need to even more expensive dental work. Sticking with one procedure – the root canal – that allows you to keep your natural tooth is usually the most cost-effective method as well.
Myth: Root Canals Are Extremely Painful
Root canals have a bad reputation for being among the most painful dental treatments out there. And if you have an older friend or relative that had a root canal in their youth, you may have heard a few horror stories. But the truth is that modern dentistry has turned the root canal into a routine procedure that's usually no more painful than the average filling.
Today's dentists have high-tech equipment like high-torque motor hand pieces that allow the dentist to have more control, and ultrasonic machines that clean the root by ultrasonic vibrations. They also have apex locators that help them find the end of the root, ensuring that they can get all of the infection out, and even laser tools that allow for high levels of precision and faster healing. On top of that, dentists have better anesthetics for numbing the area, and patients can even choose sedation dentistry if they're especially fearful. With all of these advances, there's no reason that your root canal experience needs to be a painful experience. And while you may experience some soreness while your tooth heals, it pales in comparison to the infections and abscesses that a root canal can prevent.
Root canals are a safe and effective treatment. Don't let myths like these prevent you from getting a procedure that can improve your oral health.