Root Canals: Fiction?

If you read our last post, we were talking about what most people consider to be the scariest possible thing that can happen to you in a dentist’s office: a root canal! We’re willing to bet that if you asked anyone in Houston, TX (where our practice is; we serve the entire Greater Houston area), they’d probably agree with that statement.

As we said probably several times in that post, the reality of a root canal is much different from what most people think; the truth is, a root canal is a well-understood, routine dental procedure that is no more uncomfortable than a cavity filling. In fact, most patients are shocked at just how easy it is to undergo; this is especially important to remember when you consider the alternative, which is extracting the tooth.

But I Read Online That an Extraction is Safer Than A Root Canal!

This is a common, but incorrect, belief among patients. Even though a lot of progress has been made in the realms of dental treatments and oral surgery, getting your teeth extracted is only a solution if everything else has failed. Oral surgery carries with it a serious chance of post-operative infection, especially after extractions, because it leaves big holes in your gums. Your dentist (or any reputable dentist, for that matter) will do everything possible before considering the removal of your teeth. On top of that, a tooth extraction is hardly the end of the line; you’ll need to have the removed tooth replaced, and that can be very costly indeed, both in terms of time and money, and it isn’t an option. If you don’t take care of a missing tooth, you’ll suffer a lot more, and you’ll lose more teeth.

Root canals on the other hand are non-surgical, outpatient procedures. You’ll be able to get back to your busy life as soon as it is over, and you won’t have big holes in your gums, and you won’t have to suffer through a lengthy recovery.

So Why Do People Believe That Root Canals are Dangerous?

There’s a lot of stuff about the dangers of root canals online, and the majority of it isn’t true, or even close to it. You might have even seen some of the wild claims. For example, it is often asserted that root canals cause cancer (it varies as to which cancer, though), or kidney and heart disease, or even Multiple Sclerosis and Lou Gehrig’s disease (ALS).

Let’s clear it up now: there is NO evidence whatsoever to support these or any of these claims. It’s often asserted that these claims are based on the latest research, but this idea has been floating around since at least the 1920’s.

Profiles in Perfidy: Dr. Weston A. Price

In 1925, Dr. Weston A. Price published the results of his experiments to prove a pseudoscientific “theory” that was popular at the time called focal infection theory. Focal infection theory holds that all the problems in the body can be traced back to a single infection; Dr. Price didn’t invent the theory, but he did assert that the majority of “focal infections” were the result of root canals, which he believed did nothing to eliminate infections at all, and to get rid of the infection, the tooth should always be extracted.

Even in its day, focal infection theory was highly controversial, and not supported by the majority of scientists. Even so, Dr. Price did get his findings published in a medical journal, which only caused more controversy. Many scientists accused price of at least botching his experimental methods; Price was also accused of misrepresenting his findings. Despite this, Price’s theory had a lot of “buzz” in the public, and it made its way into dental school text books. This led a lot of dentists to perform fewer root canals, and more extractions (many of which were definitely unnecessary, and if you think having your teeth extracted today sounds bad, well, imagine what it was like in the first half of the 20th century)!

It wasn’t until 1951, three years after Price’s death, that his data and research was reexamined, and sure enough: his research methods were faulty and sloppy (most of which involved giving serious infections to bunny rabbits). This means that his data was incorrect as well, but he actually misinterpreted that, as well! When this was revealed, the dentistry world went into an uproar, and dentists stopped doing so many extractions and started doing root canals again.

Who Will You Believe?

A dentist who knows you, cares about your wellbeing, and employs the very latest in dental care techniques and technology (who is also, you know, still alive), or a discredited scientist who has been dead for decades, and whose only legacy is misinformation and verifiable falsehoods?

It’s Your Choice; We Hope You Make the Right One!

If you have a toothache that won’t go away, a tooth that is sensitive to heat and cold, or a tooth that is discolored, it’s possible you have an infected tooth. To stop the infection before it gets into the rest of your body (where it can do real, life-threatening damage), you’ll need a root canal. You’ll be surprised at how easy the procedure is!

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