There are many misconceptions surrounding root canal (endodontic) treatment and whether patients experience root canal pain. The American Association of Endodontists wants you to have accurate information. As always, when considering any medical procedure, you should get as much information as you can about all of your options. Your dentist or endodontist can answer many of your questions, and if you still have concerns, it is often wise to seek a second opinion.
- Myth #1—Root canal treatment is painful.
- Myth #2—Root canal treatment causes illness.
- Myth #3—A good alternative to root canal treatment is extraction (pulling the tooth).
Myth #1—Root canal treatment is painful.
Truth—Root canal treatment doesn't cause pain, it relieves it.
The perception of root canals being painful began decades ago but with the latest technologies and anesthetics, root canal treatment today is no more uncomfortable than having a filling placed. In fact, a recent survey showed that patients who have experienced root canal treatment are six times more likely to describe it as "painless" than patients who have not had root canal treatment.
Most patients see their dentist or endodontist when they have a severe toothache. The toothache can be caused by damaged tissues in the tooth. Root canal treatment removes this damaged tissue from the tooth, thereby relieving the pain you feel. (For more about root canal procedures, see Your Guide to Root Canal Treatment.)
Myth #2—Root canal treatment causes illness.
The myth: Patients searching the Internet for information on root canals may find sites claiming that teeth receiving root canal (endodontic) treatment contribute to the occurrence of illness and disease in the body. This claim is based on long-debunked and poorly designed research performed in the 1920s by Dr. Weston A. Price. Dr. Price stated that bacteria trapped in the teeth during root canal treatment could “leak” and cause almost any type of disease, including arthritis, heart disease, kidney disease and others. This was before medicine understood the causes of these illnesses. At the time, Dr. Price recommended tooth extraction instead of endodontic treatment.
The truth: There is no valid, scientific evidence linking root canal-treated teeth and disease elsewhere in the body. In fact, by the early 1930s, a number of well-designed studies discredited Dr. Price’s research, and no subsequent research has supported Dr. Price’s findings. In 1951, the Journal of the American Dental Association devoted an entire issue to a review of the scientific literature and concluded that there was no evidence supporting Dr. Price’s theory and that his research techniques from the 1920s lacked many aspects of modern scientific research. The ADA recommended endodontic treatment as the standard of practice for teeth that could be saved. Recent research continues to support the safety of dental treatment as it relates to overall health.
- The presence of bacteria in teeth and the mouth has been an accepted fact for many years. But the presence of bacteria does not constitute "infection" and is not necessarily a threat to a person's health. Bacteria are present in the mouth and teeth at all times, even in teeth that have never had a cavity or other trauma. Research shows that the healthy immune system takes care of bacteria in a matter of minutes.
- When a severe infection in a tooth requires endodontic treatment, that treatment is designed to eliminate bacteria from the infected root canal and prevent re-infection of the tooth.
- Tooth extraction is a potentially traumatic procedure and is known to cause a significantly higher incidence of bacteria entering the bloodstream; endodontic treatment confined to the root canal system produces much less trauma and a much lower incidence and magnitude of bacteria entering the blood stream.
- There is no adequate replacement for the natural tooth - it should be saved whenever possible. Endodontic treatment, along with appropriate restoration, is a cost effective way to treat infected teeth because it is usually less expensive than extraction and placement of an implant. In most cases, endodontic treatment allows patients to keep their natural teeth for a lifetime.
Myth #3—A good alternative to root canal treatment is extraction (pulling the tooth).
Truth—Saving your natural teeth, if possible, is the very best option.
Nothing can completely replace your natural tooth. An artificial tooth can sometimes cause you to avoid certain foods. Keeping your own teeth is important so that you can continue to enjoy the wide variety of foods necessary to maintain the proper nutrient balance in your diet.
Endodontic treatment, along with appropriate restoration, is a cost-effective way to treat teeth with damaged pulp and is usually less expensive than extraction and placement of a bridge or an implant.
Endodontic treatment also has a very high success rate. Many root canal-treated teeth last a lifetime.
Placement of a bridge or an implant will require significantly more time in treatment and may result in further procedures to adjacent teeth and supporting tissues.
Millions of healthy endodontically treated teeth serve patients all over the world, years and years after treatment. Those healthy teeth are helping patients chew efficiently, maintain the natural appearance of their smiles and enhance their enjoyment of life. Through endodontic treatment, endodontists and dentists worldwide enable patients to keep their natural teeth for a lifetime.