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10 MYTHS about root canals debunked by a dentist

As a dentist, there are no words that can come out of my mouth that cause more terror than the suggestion that you need the dreaded ROOT CANAL. I can see it in your face, your pupils dilate, your pulse races, the face goes flush, and sometimes I can even hear the subtle gasp of horror at the mere idea that you need such a procedure.  In our society there are few medical treatments that carry such a negative stigma as a root canal.
Well, good news everyone, I’ve completed hundreds, if not thousands of these procedures (including emergency procedures) and I can tell you that the commonly held notions that elicit such a visceral reaction from most of you simply aren’t true.  For most, having a root canal is simply an inconvenient, yet breeze of a treatment, compared to most other medical/dental procedures.

No words that can come out of my mouth that cause more terror than the suggestion that you need the dreaded ROOT CANAL

First lets describe what a root canal treatment looks like.  There are many reasons one may need a root canal but typically they are completed when a tooth is either in the process of “dying” or has “died” and become infected.  This process begins when bacteria enter and infect the nerve of the tooth.  The treatment of a root canal in general terms removes the “live” vital and infected tissues on the inside of the tooth with the use of small instruments and irrigants that then sterilize and kill any remaining bacteria.  The final step is to fill the space that made up the “nerve” of the tooth with one of several different types of filler material.
There are MANY myths that the general public hear about Root Canals so lets go through some of the big ones:

  1. My tooth should hurt if I need a root canal, RIGHT?…
    Well, not always.  Tooth pain is caused by an irritated nerve (pulp) inside the tooth.  The pain can be mild/moderate or severe.  Really inflamed nerves will eventually die leading to an abscessed tooth.  Often times, contrary to popular belief, inflamed nerves cause little if any pain.  Once the tooth dies the nerve completely stops releasing pain signals so the only way that you will notice a problem comes when the infection moves out of the tooth and then forms an abscess.  The pressure created on your jawbone from the growing abscess can cause intense pain, or no pain.  OFTEN TIMES THERE IS LITTLE IF ANY PAIN IN A TOOTH THAT NEEDS A ROOT CANAL.
  1. Getting a root canal HURTS!
    Modern dentistry has provided many advances over the past decades.  From new technology to anesthetic, the patient experience is vastly improved over the “old” days of your parents dentistry.  Dental Anesthetics are so powerful today that it is incredibly rare that you aren’t able to get a tooth completely numb for a Root Canal.  Of the hundreds, if not thousands of root canals I’ve completed I can count on one hand the number of times that I wasn’t able to get a patient completely numb and even in those cases I was able to get them comfortable enough to complete the procedure.  ROOT CANALS TODAY GENERALLY DO NOT HURT.
  1. Having a root canal removes the roots of my tooth..
    Root Canals are a procedure used to preserve the lifespan of a tooth.  Teeth are living parts of your body with an internal blood and nerve supply.  When this internal “live” part of your tooth gets inflamed or infected with bacteria, a root canal is completed to remove it and seal it in order to preserve the tooth.  The live part of the tooth is typically around a single millimeter in diameter allowing the remaining tooth to be conserved.  ONLY THE INTERNAL PART OF THE ROOT IS REMOVED AND THEN SEALED. 
  1. Root Canals fail so why not just pull the tooth.
    Doing a root canal is a procedure that allows you to keep your tooth.  This treatment has over a 90% success rate.  Removing a tooth from your mouth can have drastic detrimental affects to your oral health.  The teeth around the missing tooth will shift causing problems with chewing and can compromise the long-term health of your adjacent teeth.  ROOT CANALS WORK.
  1. Root Canals take a LOOOONG time to complete.
    With advances in modern technology most root canals can be completed in a single visit in under 2 hours.  Some teeth with difficult anatomy can take longer to complete and some VERY infected teeth require two appointments.  ROOT CANALS DON’T TAKE LONGER THAN OTHER DENTAL PROCEDURES.
  1. Once I complete the root canal I’m done..
    Root canals remove the inner part of the tooth as well as the tooth’s blood supply.  This causes the tooth to become somewhat more brittle and susceptible to fracture.  In MOST cases a dental crown is recommend to protect the tooth by restrengthening and sealing the tooth.  LIKE ALL DENTAL TREATMENT ROUTINE MAINTENANCE BY YOUR DENTIST IS REQUIRED
  1. Root canals will make me sick.
    This common myth has been debunked many, many times over.  There is simply no single piece of evidence that shows a root canal treated tooth is linked to any physical illness in the body.  ROOT CANALS HEAL YOUR TOOTH, THEY DON’T HURT YOUR BODY.
  1. After a root canal all my pain will go away.
    While a root canal will usually work to quickly resolve all if not most of your pain there are several instances when it takes a bit longer to work.  If a tooth is really infected, it takes a while for the body to remove the residual infection in the jawbone after a root canal.  The root canal procedure itself can irritate the ligaments that hold the tooth in place causing pain.  While pain can linger after a root canal it usually resolves within 2 weeks.  IT CAN TAKE A COUPLE DAYS TO A COUPLE WEEKS FOR SYMPTOMS TO COMPLETELY RESOLVE.
  1. I will need a lot of pain medication after my root canal.
    Typically, no prescription pain medication is required after a root canal.  Over-the-counter medicine like Tylenol and ibuprofen are typically adequate if you have any residual pain after the procedure.  TYPICALLY NO PAIN MEDS ARE NEEDED FOLLOWING A ROOT CANAL
  1. Root Canals are EXPENSIVE!
    While prevention will always be the cheapest form of dentistry, root canals are not always EXPENSIVE!  They vary in cost depending on the location and complexity.   Many offices (like ours) are now offering In-House Membership Plans for their patients without dental insurance that will give you a discount for these procedures.  CHECK www.wellsfamilydental.com or www.downtownraleighdental.com TO FIND and sign up for our IN-HOUSE MEMBERSHIP PLAN.

My hope is that no one ever has to have to undergo a root canal procedure, but if you do, hopefully after reading this your anxiety about the treatment is exactly where it should be… LOW.

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