I’d rather have a root canal than (anything I really don’t want to do)!” It’s a common cliché. It’s also a statement that doesn’t accurately reflect modern root canal treatment.
Root canals’ stress-inducing reputation took hold several decades ago, when root canal treatment could be painful. Today, its reputation remains unchanged, even though the procedure itself has changed dramatically. A survey conducted by the American Association of Endodontists showed 74 percent of Americans fear losing a natural tooth. Ironically, 70 percent fear root canal treatment, the exact procedure that can save their pearly whites. In contrast, 80 percent of patients who’ve had a root canal performed by an endodontist would return to an endodontist for a future procedure.
“More than half the patients referred to our offices come to us in pain, and a big part of what we do is get people out of pain,” said Dr. Jason Phan, at Torrance Endodontic Center.
“Endodontists are extensively trained to diagnose and treat oral pain, and we have expertise in performing dental procedures in a way that eases patients’ fears and helps them avoid pain before, during and after a procedure.”
A root canal saves a tooth by removing the pulp—the soft inner tissue containing nerves and blood vessels— that’s been damaged, usually by deep decay. The endodontist cleans, fills and seals the canals, and the tooth is then restored with a permanent filling or other restoration. Nearly 15 million teeth are saved with root canal procedures each year.
In addition to the bad reputation root canals suffer regarding pain, there are other myths associated with them that, if corrected, might ease the fear that the procedure needlessly inspires in patients.
For instance, it’s thought erroneously by many that root canals can cause illness. This claim is based on research performed in the early 1900s that was later found to be faulty. In fact, other researchers have been unable to duplicate this research over the years, and believe that these early findings may have been caused by poor sanitation and imprecise research techniques that were common in that period. Recent studies indicate that teeth receiving proper endodontic treatment do not cause illness.
Another common myth is that a good alternative to root canal treatment is extraction (pulling the tooth). The reality is that saving your natural teeth, when possible, is your best option. Artificial teeth can limit your ability to chew certain foods necessary to maintaining a balanced diet. Not only will a root canal save your ability to enjoy all the foods you love, but it will save you money. Endodontic treatment, followed by the appropriate restoration (a crown placed over the tooth to make it stronger), is usually less expensive than extraction and placement of a bridge or implant, the only alternatives to root canals.
Even better, root canals have a very high success rate, with many teeth lasting a lifetime. Placement of a bridge or an implant generally requires significantly more time in treatment and may result in further procedures to adjacent teeth and supporting tissue.
The truth is that for people suffering from certain kinds of tooth pain, a root canal is usually a blessing, not a curse.