The Truth About Root Canals, Part 2
Root canals are safe, effective, and common. In our previous post, we discussed how the rumors of root canal pain are at best overblown, and we talked about what you can expect during a root canal (also called “endodontic therapy”).
In this post, we’ll talk about some of the more dangerous “myths” that keep people from getting root canal treatment, and the consequences of avoiding it.
If you have any of the following symptoms, it’s very likely you need a root canal.
- Severe toothache, especially during chewing or whenever pressure is applied.
- Tooth sensitivity to temperatures that continues even after the hot or cold source is gone
Swollen or tender gums
- Noticeable discoloration of the tooth, or you’ve noticed a “pimple” on your gums
If you need a root canal, the last thing you should do is delay it! The pain will only get worse, and more than the pain and discomfort you’re experiencing now, your overall health could be at risk! If you’re experiencing any of the symptoms listed above, you should contact our office in Longmeadow, MA immediately. Your health depends on it!
Don’t believe everything you read on the Internet
If you’re like most people these days and a medical procedure is in your future, you go online to do some research.
The thing is, when it comes to root canals, there is a great deal of bad information out there.
In addition to the persistent notion that root canals are the most traumatic and painful dental procedure a person can experience, there are other more misleading and dangerous “theories” floating around.
Most of these theories say that root canals are the cause for serious diseases, including cancer!
- This is absolutely untrue.
Only a little extra surfing is needed to reveal that those who are spreading the misinformation are doing so either because they don’t know any better, or to sell quack medicine.
Most of these root canal myths find their source in one particular piece of dental history.
Let’s take a look!
An old story
In the most common version of the myth that links root canals to disease, root canals cause:
- Kidney disease
- Heart disease
- Arthritis, joint, and rheumatic diseases
- Lou Gehrig’s disease (ALS)
- Multiple Sclerosis
- Lupus and other autoimmune diseases
- Breast cancer, oral cancer, and other cancers
Once again: there is no link between root canals and any of these diseases. Root canals are among the most studied and well-understood procedures in dentistry, and no sign of any link to these diseases or any others has ever been discovered.
Despite mountains of data, this myth continues to persist. The only thing you should expect after a root canal is some minor discomfort and swelling that lasts at the most a couple of days. You will not develop a serious disease as a result of a root canal.
It surprises many people when they find out that this myth is based on research that is nearly a century old, conducted by one dentist, and has been completely discredited since the middle of the 20th century. This information is only as far away as Wikipedia, but for some reason people still seem to buy into it.
The truth behind the myth
All the theories that connect serious disease to root canal treatments can be traced back to one man: Dr. Weston A. Price.
If you’ve been concerned about the effects of root canal treatment, his name will come up a lot on Google. He was born in 1870 and died in 1948, so not exactly a person on the cutting edge of dental science.
Anti-root canal proponents either imply or claim directly that Dr. Price’s work has been suppressed by “Big Dental”, and that this conspiracy has lasted over half a century.
Here’s what actually happened:
In 1925, Dr. Price published some controversial findings. Here’s the short version:
- Root canal therapy put patients at extreme risk for infection
- Many serious diseases of the day were the result of root canal therapy
- The best way to deal with an infected tooth is to extract it (more on that later).
Immediately after his work was published, it created controversy. Most of it had to do with his research methods, making his findings questionable at best.
Despite the controversy, Dr. Price’s work had a great deal of influence, and made its way into many dental textbooks in the 1930s. Soon after, the number of root canals dropped, and the number of tooth extractions skyrocketed.
This continued until 1951, three years after West died. That’s when the Journal of the American Dental Association published a new study of his findings and research methods. It was revealed that West’s research was indeed faulty. There were errors found in how he conducted his research, and the data produced by those faulty experiments was also misinterpreted.
The evidence against West was so complete that it sparked a resurgence in root canal therapy, and we still perform them today.
Root canals, or endodontic therapy, are the very best way to deal with an infected tooth, because it leaves the tooth in place to do its job. Root canals today are safe and relatively pain-free.
Extractions are the last resort
Even though Dr. Price’s work has been entirely discredited, his recommendation to extract the tooth rather than perform a root canal is still believed by some to have merit.
Tooth extractions are still a common practice, because there are still legitimate medical reasons to perform them. That said, an extraction is NOT an alternative to a root canal. All of us have heard people say “that’s about as much fun as a root canal” at one point or another, and many believe that root canals are extremely painful and extremely traumatic.
The fact is, a root canal is no more uncomfortable or traumatic than a filling.
An extraction on the other hand is much more involved. While modern-day extractions are much safer and easier to endure than they once were, they are a last resort for most dentists because of the long recovery time (which can last days), the need for painkillers, and the increased risk of infection (after all, there’s a big hole in your gums, and it’s just waiting to be filled with bacteria).
A root canal is much less traumatic, recovery times are much shorter (mostly the same day), and most importantly, the tooth is saved and can still do its job. Your natural teeth outperform all implants when it comes to doing their job, and your dentist will do everything to keep the tooth in place if it’s possible.
Don’t wait to make an appointment!
If you’re still not convinced that a root canal is the right move, remember that your pain will not end, and that the infection will not simply go away on its own, and it will only get worse. If you avoid getting a root canal, the bacteria will make their way from the tooth through the roots and into the gums and soft tissues nearby. The result? A pus-filled, painful abscess will form, and that’s when things go from painful to outright dangerous. Not only will you definitely lose the tooth at this point, but you will be at serious risk for infection of your entire body. This can kill.
So, if you’re experiencing a toothache that won’t go away, or your teeth have become extremely sensitive to temperature, or your gums are swollen and painful, do not wait. Your life could literally be at risk the longer you delay!
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