Posts for: March, 2020
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.”
Soon after the primary (baby) teeth begin to give way, the teeth a child will have the rest of their lives start erupting into the mouth. But while they’re permanent, they’re not as strong and developed as they will be in adulthood.
That’s why we treat young permanent teeth differently from older adult teeth. For example, a decayed adult tooth may need a root canal treatment; but this standard treatment would often be the wrong choice for a child’s tooth.
The reason why involves the pulp, the innermost layer of a tooth, which plays a critical role in early development. Young permanent teeth continue to grow in sync with the jaws and facial structure. Most of this growth is in the dentin, the layer between the enamel and pulp, which increases proportionally to the other layers as the tooth matures. The pulp generates this new dentin.
A root canal treatment completely removes the diseased tissue of the pulp. This isn’t a major issue for a mature tooth because it no longer needs to generate more dentin. But it can have long-term consequences for an immature tooth whose growth may become stunted and the roots not fully formed. The tooth may thus become brittle and darkened, and might eventually require removal.
Because of these potential consequences, a root canal treatment is a last resort for a young permanent tooth. But there are modified alternatives, depending on the degree of pulp exposure or infection. For example, if the pulp is intact, we may be able to remove as much soft decayed dentin as we can, place an antibacterial agent and then fill the tooth to seal it without disturbing the pulp. If the pulp is partially affected, we can remove that part and place substances that encourage dentin growth and repair.
Our main goal is to treat a young tooth with as little contact with the pulp as possible, so as not to diminish its capacity to generate new dentin. Avoiding a full root canal treatment if at all possible by using these and other techniques will help ensure the tooth continues to develop to full maturity.
If you would like more information on dental care for children, 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.”
Holistic medicine aims to provide healthcare for the “whole” person. While it's a worthy approach, the term has also been used to advance ideas, including in dentistry, at odds with solid scientific evidence.
Here are 4 “holistic” oral health claims and why you should be wary of them.
Root canals are dangerous. It might be shocking to learn that some claim this routine tooth-saving procedure increases the risk of disease. The claim comes from an early 20th Century belief that leaving a “dead” organ like a root-canaled tooth in the body damages the immune system. The idea, though, has been thoroughly disproved, most recently by a 2013 oral cancer study that found not only no evidence of increased cancer, but an actual decrease in cancer risk following root canal treatment.
X-rays are hazardous. X-rays have improved tooth decay treatment by allowing dentists to detect it at earlier stages. Even so, many advise avoiding X-rays because, as a form of radiation, high levels could damage health. But dentists take great care when x-raying patients, performing them only as needed and at the lowest possible exposure. In fact, people receive less radiation through dental X-rays than from their normal background environment.
Silver fillings are toxic. Known for their strength and stability, dentists have used silver fillings for generations. But now many people are leery of them because it includes mercury, which has been linked to several health problems. Research concludes that there's no cause for alarm, or any need to remove existing fillings: The type of mercury used in amalgam is different from the toxic kind and doesn't pose a health danger.
Fluoride contributes to disease. Nothing has been more beneficial in dental care or more controversial than fluoride. A proven weapon against tooth decay, fluoride has nonetheless been associated with ailments like cancer or Alzheimer's disease. But numerous studies have failed to find any substantial disease link with fluoride except fluorosis, heavy tooth staining due to excess fluoride. Fluorosis, though, doesn't harm the teeth otherwise and is easily prevented by keeping fluoride consumption within acceptable limits.
Each of these supposed “dangers” plays a prominent role in preventing or minimizing dental disease. If you have a concern, please talk with your dentist to get the true facts about them.
If you would like more information on best dental practices, 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 “Holistic Dentistry: Fads vs. Evidence-Based Practices.”