Every year U.S. dentists perform around 25 million root canal treatments and save countless teeth from the ravages of decay. But if you search "root canal" on the Internet, you might encounter an unsettling charge against this tooth-saving treatment—that it causes cancer.
Root canal treatments are routinely used when tooth decay has infected the pulp, the innermost layer of a tooth. During the procedure, we access the pulp and remove all the infected tissue. We then fill the empty pulp and root canals, seal the access hole and later crown the tooth to prevent further infection. Without this intervention, the decay can continue to advance toward the roots and supporting bone, putting the tooth in imminent danger of loss.
So, is there any credibility to this claim that root canal treatments cause cancer? In a word, no: there's no evidence of any connection between root canal treatments and cancer—or any other disease for that matter. On the contrary: root canals stop disease.
As with other types of urban legends and internet hype, the root canal-cancer connection may have arisen from another discredited idea from the early 20th Century. A dentist named Weston Price promoted the notion that leaving a "dead" organ in the body led to health problems. From his perspective, a root canaled tooth with its removed pulp tissue fit this criterion.
In the mid-1950s, dentistry thoroughly examined Dr. Weston's theory pertaining to treatments like root canals. The Journal of the American Dental Association devoted an entire issue to it and found after rigorous scientific inquiry that the theory had no validity in this regard. Another study in 2013 confirmed those findings. In fact, the later study instead found that patients who underwent a root canal treatment had a 45 percent reduction in oral cancer risk.
Given the freewheeling nature of the Internet, it's best to speak with a dental professional about your oral health before trusting a post or article you've found online. Not only are they more informed than an unverified online source, they would certainly not knowingly subject you to a procedure to save a tooth at the expense of your health.
If you would like more information on root canal treatment, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Root Canal Safety.”
A root canal treatment is a common procedure performed by dentists and endodontists (specialists for inner tooth problems). If you're about to undergo this tooth-saving procedure, here's what you need to know.
The goal of a root canal treatment is to stop tooth decay within a tooth's interior and minimize any damage to the tooth and underlying bone. This is done by accessing the tooth's pulp and root canals (tiny passageways traveling through the tooth roots to the bone) by drilling into the biting surface of a back tooth or the "tongue" side of a front tooth.
First, though, we numb the tooth and surrounding area with local anesthesia so you won't feel any pain during the procedure. We'll also place a small sheet of vinyl or rubber called a dental dam that isolates the affected tooth from other teeth to minimize the spread of infection.
After gaining access inside the tooth we use special instruments to remove all of the diseased tissue, often with the help of a dental microscope to view the interior of tiny root canals. Once the pulp and root canals have been cleared, we'll flush the empty spaces with an antibacterial solution.
After any required reshaping, we'll fill the pulp chamber and root canals with a special filling called gutta-percha. This rubberlike, biocompatible substance conforms easily to the shape of these inner tooth structures. The filling preserves the tooth from future infection, with the added protection of adhesive cement to seal it in.
Afterward, you may have a few days of soreness that's often manageable with mild pain relievers. You'll return for a follow-up visit and possibly a more permanent filling for the access hole. It's also likely you'll receive a permanent crown for the tooth to restore it and further protect it from future fracture.
Without this vital treatment, you could very well lose your tooth to the ravages of decay. The time and any minor discomfort you may experience are well worth the outcome.
If you would like more information on treating tooth decay, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Root Canal Treatment: What You Need to Know.”
So, you've undergone a root canal treatment to save a decayed tooth. The tooth has a new lease on life — and the pain is gone too. But there's a reality you need to keep in mind — your tooth could become re-infected, putting you back in the same painful circumstance.
Root canal treatments are often necessary when decay works its way deep within a tooth, into the pulp. The excruciating pain a person feels is the infection attacking the bundle of nerves within the pulp tissue. If the infection isn't addressed promptly, it will continue to work its way to the root, eventually damaging the tooth beyond repair.
During a root canal treatment, we drill into the tooth to access the pulp chamber. After clearing it completely of its infected tissue, we then fill the chamber and root canals with a special filling and then seal off the access. A short time later we'll bond a crown over the tooth to protect it and to make it more attractive.
Most of the time, this preserves the tooth for many years. Occasionally, though, re-infection can occur. There are a number of reasons why: the first infection may have been more extensive than thought; the root canal network was more complex and some tinier canals weren't able to be identified; or the protective crown may once again get tooth decay contaminating the root canal.
If infection does reoccur it doesn't mean the tooth is lost. It's possible a second root canal treatment can successfully correct any problems, especially those that may not have been detected the first time. More complex cases might also require the services of an endodontist, a specialist in root canals. They're skilled in advanced techniques and have specialized equipment to handle even the most complicated root canal networks.
In the meantime, if you notice signs of re-infection like pain or swelling around a treated tooth, contact us promptly for an appointment. You should also contact us if the tooth is injured in an accident. The sooner we can treat your tooth, the more likely the second time will be more successful.
If you would like more information on preserving a tooth through root canal treatment, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Root Canal Treatment: How long will it Last?”