In our last post, Root Canal: Misunderstood Medicine, we discussed the reality of root canals. Root canals are no more uncomfortable than getting a filling, are much preferable to an extraction (surgically removing the tooth entirely), and can save your natural tooth (and most importantly, you) from serious and possibly life-threatening infection.
A root canal is a relatively simple procedure that most of our patients are often very surprised at just how easy it was to go through! Sometimes that surprise is coupled with a little embarrassment, especially if the patient made a lot of fuss about this routine and well-understood treatment.
Why Do People Fear Root Canals?
People fear what they don’t understand, and root canals are greatly misunderstood! The first thing that people will say that scares them about root canal is the pain that they expect. As we’ve stated before, a root canal is no more painful than a filling to repair a cavity, which most people have been getting for the majority of their lives. If you’re still certain that pain is the reason why you haven’t sought treatment for a problem (such as a toothache), we’re specially equipped at 1st in Smiles to help you with sedation dentistry options to help you relax in the chair (see our page on sedation dentistry for more info).
Pain can be managed easily today with modern technology, so why does the root canal fear persist? The same reason any fear persists: misunderstanding, in the form of faulty assumptions based on bad information.
Don’t Believe Everything Your Read Online!
You’d expect by now in 2015 that everyone would be more Internet savvy than they are. That’s not the case, however, and unscrupulous individuals spread misleading or entirely false information either for fun or profit. Root canal myths are spread to achieve profits (or by people who have no bad intentions but don’t know any better). A whole world of alternative medicine has popped up to prey on people’s fear of medical science, and dentistry is certainly not immune.
Here’s a few of the root canal rumors we’ve encountered online:
Root canals cause kidney disease.
Root canals cause heart disease.
Root canals cause arthritis and other rheumatic diseases.
Root canals cause Lou Gehrig’s disease (ALS)
Root canals cause Multiple Sclerosis
Root canals cause autoimmune diseases, such as lupus
95% of cancer victims have had root canals in the past
Root canal causes cancer of the breast, all forms of oral cancer, and many others
All of the above statements are completely FALSE. No scientifically verifiable link has EVER been made between root canal therapy and any disease or health problem.
The only root canal that can make you sick is the root canal you avoid!
What’s even worse is that those who perpetuate these misleading ideas also advocate extraction as the best way to deal with an infected tooth. This is incorrect. Extractions are still sometimes necessary to solve a limited number of dental problems, and usually only as a last resort.
A tooth extraction is much more traumatic and painful than a root canal, requires a much longer recovery time, but most importantly, a tooth extraction puts you at serious risk for infections (after all, that is a pretty large hole in your oral cavity for bacteria to find their way into!).
Where Do These Rumors Come From?
A rumor or falsehood can be completely undone when exposed to the truth; unfortunately, in most cases, that means finding the source of the rumor, which is usually impossible. That isn’t the case with root canals though!
The root canal myth’s, um, “roots” are well-documented, as is the idea that extraction is the best way to treat an infected tooth. It is all based on a theory called focal infection. Controversial from the start, focal infection is a scientific theory that has been completely discredited, as has its primary advocate, Dr. Weston A. Price. Dr. Price was born in 1870, died in 1948, and his conclusions have been considered bad science since the 1930’s. Incredibly, he still influences people to this day (or rather, people use him to influence others, if we are being entirely fair).
Dr. Price conducted research that led him to the conclusion that root canals caused many diseases in the body; the list he came up with is fairly similar to the one from earlier in this blog post. He spent 25 years (experimenting mostly on rabbits) trying to prove his theory: that root canals cause disease, and tooth extraction is the best way to treat an infected tooth. He finally got his big break in 1925 when his Dental Infections and related Degenerative Diseases was published (despite a lot of concerns about the validity of his research and his methods). Despite the controversy, Price’s conclusions made their way into the dental textbooks of the day. Dentists stopped performing root canals and a lot of people got their teeth removed needlessly as a result (and probably caused a lot of unnecessary infection and pain in the process).
Other scientists worked hard to disprove his claims, and they finally succeeded three years after he died, in 1948. A rigorous review of his notes and data revealed that not only had he misinterpreted his data, his data was inherently flawed and based on poorly designed and poorly executed experiments. The new findings were published, the dental community let out a collective “My bad!” and went back to performing root canals (saving an untold number of people suffering and preserving countless teeth that might have been removed for no reason).
So What Happened to Dr. Price?
Dr. Price went on to experiment with nutrition. His research there is also extremely controversial and was also discredited. However, like a stubborn infection, Price’s legacy lives on today on the Internet, where his name and theories are used to sell all manner of quackery. Don’t be fooled! If someone tells you that a root canal is inherently dangerous, that person is either a) not well-informed, or b) trying to get you to buy something that you don’t need or could even cause you harm (if only by preventing you from seeking proper care).
Don’t Believe the Myths! A Root Canal is the Solution to an Infected Tooth!
If you have a tooth that aches a lot, has become sensitive to extremes in temperature, or you have gums that are swollen or even have a blemish, these are all signs that you have an infected tooth.
An infected tooth needs to be treated immediately; it will only get worse, and it represents a threat not only to your teeth and your oral health but your general health as well!
Even if it turns out the problem is minor, identifying it and treating it early is the best way to avoid future pain and more involved procedures.