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.”
There are a variety of methods for treating periodontal (gum) disease depending on its severity — from routine office cleanings to periodontal surgery. But the goal behind all of them remains the same: remove bacterial plaque and calculus (tartar), the root cause for gum disease, from all tooth and gum surfaces.
The traditional method for doing this is called scaling in which we use special hand instruments (scalers) to mechanically remove plaque and calculus. Scaling and a similar procedure called root planing (the root surfaces are “planed” smooth of plaque to aid tissue reattachment) require quite a bit of skill and experience. They're also time-consuming: full treatment can take several sessions, depending on how extensive the infection has spread.
In recent years, we've also seen a new method emerge for removing plaque: lasers. Commonly used in other aspects of healthcare, lasers utilize a focused beam of light to destroy and remove diseased or unhealthy tissue while, according to studies and firsthand accounts, minimizing healthy tissue destruction to a better degree than traditional techniques. Procedure and healing times are likewise reduced.
Because of these beneficial characteristics, we are seeing their use in gum disease treatment, especially for removing diseased and inflamed tissues below the gum line and decreasing sub-gingival (“below the gums”) bacteria.
Dentists who have used lasers in this way do report less tissue damage, bleeding and post-treatment discomfort than traditional treatments. But because research is just beginning, there's not enough evidence to say laser treatment is preferably better than conventional treatment for gum disease.
At this point, lasers can be an effective addition to conventional gum disease treatment for certain people, especially those in the early stages of the disease. As we continue to study this technology, though, the day may come when lasers are the preferred way to stop gum disease from ruining your dental health.
If you would like more information on treating gum disease, 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 “Lasers Versus Traditional Cleanings for Treating Gum Disease.”
Root canal treatment can be an effective life preserver for a heavily decayed tooth. The question a lot of people ask, though, is how long might the tooth survive after treatment.
That’s an important concern since the treated tooth was in dire straits beforehand as decay had infected its inner most layer, the pulp. The infection, which had caused the living bundles of nerves, blood vessels and connective tissue within to become inflamed and diseased, was poised to invade even deeper through the root canals. During the root canal treatment, the infected pulp tissue is removed and the empty chamber and root canals are filled with a special filling to seal the tooth from further infection.
The protection, though, isn’t an absolute certainty: how long a treated tooth survives depends on a number of factors. For one, the earlier a diseased tooth can be initially diagnosed — especially if the infection hasn’t spread into the jawbone — the better the procedural outcome. Likewise, the chances of longevity are also better if the initial root canal treatment was thorough in identifying and filling all the root canals as well as capping the tooth with a life-like crown in a timely manner after treatment.
The type and location of the tooth can also affect its long-term health. Front teeth, with their single roots and canals are easier to access and treat. Back teeth, by contrast, can have two or more roots and a more intricate canal network. These kinds of complications could require the use of special microscopic equipment and the expertise of an endodontist, a specialist in root canals.
Even if a re-infection occurs, the tooth isn’t necessarily lost. A repeat root canal treatment that addresses these and other issues, could give the tooth a “third” chance. In any case, if a tooth is worth saving attempting a root canal treatment is generally preferable to losing the tooth and replacing it with a prosthetic tooth — it’s well worth the try.
If you would like more information on root canal treatments, 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.”
As the host of America's Funniest Home Videos on ABC TV, Alfonso Ribeiro has witnessed plenty of unintentional physical comedy…or, as he puts it in an interview with Dear Doctor–Dentistry & Oral Health magazine, "When people do stuff and you're like, 'Dude, you just hurt yourself for no reason!'" So when he had his own dental dilemma, Alfonso was determined not to let it turn onto an "epic fail."
The television personality was in his thirties when a painful tooth infection flared up. Instead of ignoring the problem, he took care of it by visiting his dentist, who recommended a root canal procedure. "It's not like you wake up and go, 'Yay, I'm going to have my root canal today!'" he joked. "But once it's done, you couldn't be happier because the pain is gone and you're just smiling because you're no longer in pain!"
Alfonso's experience echoes that of many other people. The root canal procedure is designed to save an infected tooth that otherwise would probably be lost. The infection may start when harmful bacteria from the mouth create a small hole (called a cavity) in the tooth's surface. If left untreated, the decay bacteria continue to eat away at the tooth's structure. Eventually, they can reach the soft pulp tissue, which extends through branching spaces deep inside the tooth called root canals.
Once infection gets a foothold there, it's time for root canal treatment! In this procedure, the area is first numbed; next, a small hole is made in the tooth to give access to the pulp, which contains nerves and blood vessels. The diseased tissue is then carefully removed with tiny instruments, and the canals are disinfected to prevent bacteria from spreading. Finally, the tooth is sealed up to prevent re-infection. Following treatment, a crown (cap) is usually required to restore the tooth's full function and appearance.
Root canal treatment sometimes gets a bad rap from people who are unfamiliar with it, or have come across misinformation on the internet. The truth is, a root canal doesn't cause pain: It relieves pain! The alternatives—having the tooth pulled or leaving the infection untreated—are often much worse.
Having a tooth extracted and replaced can be costly and time consuming…yet a missing tooth that isn't replaced can cause problems for your oral health, nutrition and self-esteem. And an untreated infection doesn't just go away on its own—it continues to smolder in your body, potentially causing serious problems. So if you need a root canal, don't delay!
If you would like additional information on root canal treatment, please contact us or schedule a consultation. You can learn more by reading the Dear Doctor magazine articles “A Step-By-Step Guide to Root Canal Treatment” and “Root Canal Treatment: What You Need to Know.”
Children have a lot of energy that's often channeled through physical activities and sports. Unfortunately, this also increases their risk of injuries, particularly to their teeth.
Injuries to the mouth can endanger permanent teeth's survival. For an older tooth, a root canal treatment might be in order. Not so, though, for a pre-adolescent tooth, even if it is permanent.
A young permanent tooth is still developing dentin, the large layer just below the enamel. This growth depends on the connective tissue, blood vessels and nerves within the pulp in the center of the tooth. Because a root canal treatment removes all of this tissue, it could stunt dentin and root growth and endanger the tooth's future.
Instead, we may need to treat it with one of a number of modified versions of a root canal, depending on what we find. If the tooth's pulp is unexposed, for example, we may need only to remove the damaged dentin, while still leaving a barrier of dentin to protect the pulp. We then apply an antibacterial agent to minimize infection and fill in the area where we've removed tooth structure.
If some of the pulp is exposed, we may perform a pulpotomy to remove just the affected pulp and any overgrown tissue. We then place a substance that encourages dentin growth and seal it in with a filling. If we go deeper toward the root end, we might also perform procedures that encourage the remaining pulp to form into a root end to stabilize the tooth.
If the entire pulp has been damaged beyond salvage, we may then turn to a procedure called an apexification. In this case we clean out the pulp chamber; at the root end we place mineral trioxide aggregate (MTA), a growth stimulator that encourages surrounding bone to heal and grow. We then fill in the root canals and chamber with a special filling called gutta percha to seal the tooth.
The deeper we must penetrate into the pulp, the higher the chances the young tooth's dentin and roots won't form properly, leading to later problems and possible loss. But by employing the appropriate one of these methods, we can minimize the risk and give your child's damaged tooth a fighting chance.
If you would like more information on children and dental injuries, 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 “Saving New Permanent Teeth after Injury.”
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