If you’ve ever read online that root canal therapy causes cancer, don’t be alarmed—it doesn’t. What it does do is save a deeply decayed tooth that might otherwise be lost.
Tooth decay is caused by acid produced by bacteria, which dissolves enamel to create a hole or cavity. But it doesn’t stop there: decay can move on to infect the tooth’s innermost layer, the pulp filled with nerves and blood vessels. Unchecked, the resulting infection can travel through the root canals to eventually infect the bone.
A root canal treatment stops the infection before it goes this far. After administering a local anesthetic, we drill a small hole into the tooth to access the pulp chamber and root canals. We then remove all the diseased tissue, disinfect the space and then place a filling within the empty chamber and root canals to prevent further infection. We then seal the access hole and later crown the tooth to further protect and stabilize it.
It’s no exaggeration, then, to say that root canal treatments have saved millions of teeth. So, for all its beneficial effect, why is it considered by some to pose a health danger?
The germ for this notion comes from the early 20th Century when a dentist named Weston Price theorized that leaving a “dead” organ in place would harm the body. Since a root-canaled tooth with the pulp’s living tissue removed is technically no longer viable, it fit the category of “dead” tissue. Thus, according to this theory, maladies like cancer could arise because of the “dead” tooth.
Unfortunately, this theory has found a somewhat new life recently on the internet, even though it was thoroughly investigated and debunked in the 1950s. And as late as 2013, a study published in a journal of the American Medical Association found no increased cancer risk after root canal treatment, and even some evidence for a reduced risk.
So, if your dentist recommends root canal treatment, rest assured it’s needed to save your tooth. Rather than harm your health, it will improve it.
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.”
If you wince in pain while eating or drinking something hot or cold, you’re not alone: tooth sensitivity afflicts one in three Americans. To understand what’s possibly going on, let’s look first at tooth anatomy.
Teeth are mainly composed of three layers: an outer protective enamel that covers the upper crown, a middle layer called dentin and an inner pulp. The dentin is composed of small tubules that transmit outer temperature and pressure sensations to nerves in the pulp.
The enamel serves as a “muffler,” damping sensations to protect the nerves from overload. In the root area, the gums and a thin material called cementum covering the roots also help muffle sensation.
But sometimes teeth can lose this muffling effect and the nerves encounter the full brunt of the sensations. The most common reason is gum recession, usually caused by periodontal (gum) disease. The gums have shrunk back or “receded,” and after a short while the cementum covering will also be lost, exposing the dentin in the root area.
Another problem is enamel erosion caused by mouth acid. Chronic high acidity, often caused by bacterial growth or acidic foods and beverages, can dissolve the enamel’s mineral content, causing decay and exposure as well of the underlying dentin.
To avoid future tooth sensitivity, it pays to prevent these two dental problems. The most important thing you can do is practice daily brushing and flossing to reduce bacterial plaque and see your dentist regularly for dental cleanings and checkups.
But if you’re already experiencing symptoms, you’ll first need an accurate diagnosis of the cause. If it’s related to gum disease, immediate treatment could help stop or even reverse any gum recession. To address enamel erosion, your dentist may be able to protect and strengthen your teeth with sealants and topical fluoride.
There are also things you and your dentist can do to reduce your symptoms. One is for you to use hygiene products with fluoride, which can take the edge off of sensitivity, or potassium, which helps reduce nerve activity. Your dentist can further reduce nerve sensitivity by blocking the tubules with sealants and bonding agents.
Tooth sensitivity is an irritating problem in itself; more importantly, though, it’s often a warning of something else seriously wrong that needs attention. If you’re feeling a little sensitive in the teeth, see your dentist as soon as possible.
If you would like more information on tooth sensitivity, 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 “Treatment of Tooth Sensitivity: Understanding Your Options.”
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.”
When decay spreads to the tooth’s inner pulp, a root canal treatment may be necessary to save it. It’s a common procedure: after removing all tissue from the pulp, the pulp chamber and root canals are filled with a special filling. The tooth is then sealed and a crown installed to protect the tooth from re-infection and/or fracture, possibly extending the tooth’s life for many years.
Sometimes, however, the tooth doesn’t respond and heal as expected: the number, size and shape of the patient’s root canals may have complicated the procedure; there may have been a delay before installing the final crown or restoration or the restoration didn’t seal the tooth as it should have, both occurrences giving rise to re-infection. It’s also possible for a second, separate occurrence of decay or injury to the tooth or crown to undo the effects of successful treatment.
It may be necessary in these cases to conduct a second root canal treatment, one that may be more complicated or challenging than the first one. For one thing, if the tooth has been covered by a crown or other restorative materials, these will most likely need to be removed beforehand. In cases where the root canal network and anatomy are challenging, it may require the expertise of an endodontist, a dental specialist in root canal treatments. Using advanced techniques with microscopic equipment, an endodontist can locate and fill unusually narrow or blocked root canals.
Because of these and other possible complications, a root canal retreatment may be more costly than a first-time procedure. Additionally, if you have dental insurance, your particular benefit package may or may not cover the full cost or impose limitations on repeated procedures within a certain length of time. The alternative to retreatment, though, is the removal of the tooth and replacement with a dental implant, bridge or partial denture with their own set of costs and considerations.
The complications and costs of a repeated procedure, though, may be well worth it, if it results in a longer life for the tooth. Preserving your natural tooth is in most cases the most desired outcome for maintaining a healthy mouth.
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.”
The sooner you get treated for tooth decay, the less likely you'll lose your tooth. That could mean a simple filling—or you might need a root canal treatment if decay has reached the inner pulp.
There's also another procedure for advanced decay called pulp capping. It's a bit more involved than filling a cavity but less so than a root canal. We can use it if decay has exposed or nearly exposed the pulp, but not yet infected it—otherwise, you may still need a root canal treatment to remove the diseased pulp tissue.
There are two types of pulp capping methods, direct and indirect. We use direct pulp capping if the pulp has been exposed by decay. After isolating the tooth to protect other teeth from contamination, we remove all of the decayed dentin up to the pulp. This may cause some bleeding, which we'll stop, and then clean and dry the tooth area.
We'll then apply a protective biocompatible material directly over the pulp to promote healing and protect it from further infection. We then restore the tooth's appearance and function with a life-like filling.
We use the indirect method, a two-part process separated by six to eight months, when the pulp tissue is close to the surface but not yet exposed. We initially remove the majority of decayed tooth structure, but leave some of it in place next to the pulp chamber. Although this remaining dentin is softened and decayed, we'll treat it with antibacterial chemicals, then cover it with a biocompatible material and a temporary filling.
Over the next several months the treated structure has a chance to re-mineralize as it heals. We then remove the temporary filling and assess the level of healing progress. If the regenerated dentin appears healthy, we can then remove any remaining decay and restore the teeth as we would after a direct pulp capping.
At the very least, pulp capping could buy your affected tooth time before a root canal will finally be needed. Under the right circumstances, it's an effective way to save an otherwise lost tooth.
If you would like more information on tooth decay 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 “Pulp Capping: A Procedure that may Save a Decayed Tooth.”
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