Myths About Root Canal Treatment

Myth:  Root canal treatment is painful.
Truth: Root canal treatment relieves pain.  Damaged tissues inside the tooth can cause a severe toothache.  Root canal treatment removes these damaged tissues from inside the tooth to relieve pain and infection.  Thanks to advancements in anesthetics and treatment techniques, the overwhelming majority of patients report that they are comfortable during the procedure.  For the first few days after treatment, the tooth often feels sensitive, especially if pain or infection was present before the procedure.  This discomfort is usually well-controlled with over-the-counter pain medications.  After one week, only 5% of patients report discomfort is still present and they rate their pain level as mild.

Myth:  Root canal treatment causes illness.
Truth: Root canal treatment is a safe and effective procedure that promotes healing of inflammation and infection in teeth and the surrounding tissues.  A very small number of physicians and dentists claim that endodontically-treated teeth contribute to diseases in other parts of the body.  These claims are based on outdated and poorly-performed research with questionable results likely caused by poor sanitation and imprecise research techniques.  Multiple well-conducted studies show that people with root canal treatment are no more likely to be ill than people without them.  Bacteria are present in the intestines, the mouth, and the teeth at all times, even in teeth that have never had a cavity, trauma, or root canal treatment.  Root canal treatment greatly decreases the number of bacteria present in infected roots and promotes healing of infected tissues surrounding teeth that could cause serious health problems if left untreated.

Myth:  The roots of my teeth are removed during root canal treatment.
Truth: During root canal treatment, inflamed or infected tissues are removed from the tunnels or canals in the center of your tooth.  If the roots were removed, your tooth would not remain in place in your mouth.  Root canal treatment involves disinfecting the central core of your tooth.

Myth:  A good alternative to root canal treatment is extraction (pulling the tooth).
Truth: Saving your natural tooth, if possible, is usually the best option.  In most cases, root canal treatment and proper restoration of your natural tooth is less expensive than the alternative of having the tooth extracted and replaced by an artificial tooth.  Preserving your natural tooth usually takes less time, results in fewer complications, and looks more natural compared to alternative treatment options.  Nothing looks, feels, or functions quite like your natural tooth.  Root canal treatment has a very high success rate, often exceeding 90%, particularly when performed by an endodontist.  When endodontically-treated teeth are properly restored, usually with a core foundation and crown, they can last as long as your other natural teeth.

Myth:  Dental implants are a better option than root canal treatment.
Truth: In 2011, a survey was conducted of two groups of patients- the first had endodontic treatment while the second had dental implants.  Both groups of patients expressed a preference to keep their natural tooth if at all possible.  Research comparing root canal treatment to implants shows no difference in long-term success rates between the two options.  Interestingly, most studies looking at outcomes following root canal treatment involve more rigorous criteria for healing than do studies of implants.  For example, root canal treatment is considered successful when bone is either regenerated or does not resorb whereas with implant treatment, a certain amount of bone loss is allowed for cases that are considered successful.  Research with implants often involves carefully selected groups with few health complications and the implants are usually placed by specialists.  In contrast, most studies on root canal treatment do not exclude patients with health complications and the treatment is often completed by general dentists or even dental students rather than specialists.  Despite these important differences in study design, both treatment options enjoy a success rate greater than 90%.  However, implant treatment usually takes longer, results in more complications, and costs more than root canal treatment followed by proper restorative treatment (usually a crown).  Although dental implants cannot decay like your natural teeth, bacteria that cause disease in your mouth can invade implant surfaces and cause the tissues around the implant to become inflamed and/or infected.  Maintaining excellent oral hygiene is essential with dental implants just as it is with your natural teeth.