Common Myths About Root Canals
Five Myths about Root Canals
For some people, all it takes to strike fear in their hearts is the term “root canal”. The dental procedure, root canal treatment, is surrounded by anxiety, fear, and misinformation. Here we will debunk a few of the most common myths about root canals. Our hope is that, with the correct information, you will not fear this dental procedure that could literally save your life in the case of dangerous tooth infections!
#1: They are extremely painful.
The root canal treatment procedure itself should not cause any pain at all. Our dentists will use a local anesthetic to numb the tooth and the surrounding gums and bone. The anesthetic turns off the nerve signals that tell your brain something hurts.
The truth behind this myth is that when severe infection is present near the site where the dentist must apply the local anesthetic, the pH of the infection can counteract and even inactive the local anesthetic. This is why many patients have to take oral antibiotics for a week prior to a root canal. The potential for this complication depends on the location of the local anesthetic administration.
A skilled dentist will ensure this complication does not occur. Those who perform root canals are experts in anesthesia so that the patients are completely comfortable throughout the procedure.
#2: Every toothache requires a root canal.
Many people mistakenly assume that every toothache pain requires a root canal to repair the tooth. This is, thankfully, untrue. Many issues of sensitivity or inflammation in a tooth are temporary and reversible. A root canal is only necessary when the nerve and blood vessel tissue within a tooth sustain irreversible, permanent damage from bacterial infection or trauma.
Not every cavity or crack requires a root canal. Here are a few signs of toothaches that usually do require root canal treatment.
- Pain after eating or drinking something cold that lingers for more than ten seconds
- Spontaneous pain that occurs when you are not eating or drinking anything
- Swelling in the gums near the end of the tooth’s root(s)
If you exhibit any of these signs, please make sure not to ignore them. Make an appointment for an evaluation as soon as possible!
#3: You have to be sedated for the procedure.
You do not have to be put to sleep for a root canal procedure. You certainly can if you would like, but it is not a requirement. Many people, due to fear or anxiety, request sedation to allow them to sleep through a root canal treatment.
There are others who fear being put to sleep more than they fear the procedure. It is this misconception that could cause them to avoid proceeding with important dental treatment. If you need a root canal, make sure you discuss the various options for relaxation and/or sedation during your treatment. You can opt for local anesthetic only, laughing gas to “take the edge off”, or conscious sedation that allows you to sleep through the procedure (and most of the day…).
#4: Once you have a root canal, the tooth is fixed forever.
Unfortunately, we see the long-term complications of this myth all the time. People often spend a large amount of money to save a tooth with a root canal treatment, and then, either through a lack of understanding or sense of urgency, do not follow through with necessary follow-up treatment and care.
A root canal is an essential part of saving a tooth with irreversible nerve damage. However, the root canal by itself doesn’t finish the job. Because the root canal removes the blood vessels from the inside of a tooth, it leaves the tooth without a source of hydration. The tooth becomes brittle and dry, with an extremely high risk for cracking. Teeth with root canals need full coverage by a dental crown to prevent fractures from developing.
Even after you cover the tooth with a crown, it is still vulnerable to cavities and gum disease. Teeth with root canals require the same care, if not even better care, than those without. Because there is no nerve remaining in a tooth with a root canal, you will not have sensitivity or pain to warn you of a problem like a cavity or a crack.
The tooth is only “fixed” when a crown covers it, you perform consistent good oral hygiene at home, and you see your dentist for professional cleanings and evaluations every six months.
#5: They can cause cancer.
This myth has gained popularity in recent years as a conspiracy theory. The claim is that over 90% of cancer patients have had a root canal treatment in the past. While that statistic may be true, (it is difficult to obtain accurate numbers), it only implies a correlation. We must understand and make the distinction between correlation and causation. A correlation can be a simple coincidence. Causation means that one thing causes another.
There is no research supporting a claim that root canals cause cancer. Most likely, the correlation has more to do with the infections and inflammation that lead to the need for root canal treatments instead of the treatment that removes those infections and inflammation. There is research showing a link between chronic infection/inflammation and cancer. Taking that into account, you could say that not having a root canal treatment increases the risk for cancer.