Is a Root Canal the Best Choice for You?
Over 95% of people will experience tooth decay at some point in their lives. In many cases, decay will advance until it infects the interior structure of the tooth, known as the pulp, which is where the nerve and blood vessels live in the root of the tooth. This happens to more than 15 million people each year and the vast majority undergo a procedure known as a root canal.
You’ve probably heard of a root canal before, after all it’s one of the most commonly performed dental procedures. But are root canals safe? If a dentist tells you that you “need” a root canal, is it your best option? (By the way, nobody “needs” a root canal. It is simply one of many options).
Today, I’ll share with you my beliefs about root canals and help you understand the alternative treatments I recommend to many of the patients I treat at my holistic dental practice.
Understanding Tooth Decay
Your mouth is full of bacteria. The average person has over 100 different varieties of bacteria living in their mouth at any given time. But don’t be grossed out! The vast majority of oral bacteria are completely harmless and others are actually beneficial and help you digest your food.
But all bacteria need to eat. They do this by converting the sugars they feed on into acids. If these acids build up, they can eat away at the enamel of your teeth, causing tooth decay and cavities. If tooth decay isn’t detected and treated early enough, the acids will continue to eat all the way through the enamel and reach your tooth’s next layer, known as dentin.
While enamel is the hardest substance in your body, dentin is much softer and much more easily damaged by acid. Once tooth decay advances beyond the dentin, it reaches an inner layer of tooth known as the pulp.
The pulp of your tooth contains the nerves and blood supply for your tooth. Infections in the pulp of your tooth are both very painful and very dangerous.
The Dangers of Infection
Once decay reaches the pulp of the tooth and infection sets in, the result is what is known as an abscess. Infection from an abscessed tooth can spread to other parts of the body, including the brain.
Symptoms of an abscessed tooth often include a combination of:
- Pain and/or swelling in the jaw
- Persistent bad breath and a bitter taste in the mouth
- Fever or swollen lymph nodes
- Swollen and red gums
- Extreme sensitivity or pain when consuming hot or cold foods/beverages
These infections are very serious, may require hospitalization, and may even be deadly.
It’s also important to note that even if you don’t have cavities and have great brushing and flossing habits, broken or chipped teeth can allow bacteria access to the dentin and pulp of your teeth, leading to infection.
Root Canals: The Traditional Treatment
For years, a root canal has been the traditional treatment for decay that has advanced into the pulp of the tooth. Here’s how a root canal works:
- The surface of the tooth is ground away, allowing access to the pulp and nerve which is then removed.
- The pulp chamber is filled and sealed.
- A new, artificial tooth surface is made to fit onto the remaining tooth structure. This is commonly called a crown. Most crowns made by traditional dentists are made in a dental lab, a process that takes a few weeks. In the meantime, a temporary crown is affixed to the tooth.
The Drawbacks of Traditional Treatment
All of that sounds well and good right? Remove the nerve and pulp, get a crown, and that’s it. Pretty simple.
The truth is much more complicated and there are many well-known drawbacks to traditional root canal procedures. It is well established that it is impossible to remove all of the dead tissue and bacteria inside a tooth when a root canal is performed.
The bacteria that is left behind then thrive in this anaerobic (oxygen-free) environment. Your immune system then has to continue fighting off chronic infection. As you can see, it can be a real drain on your immune system and your body. Remember that your body is a series of connected systems and if they’re not working in harmony, the result is less than optimal health.
A Root Canaled Tooth is a Dead Tooth
Some dentists talk about root canals as a way to save your natural tooth. The truth is that when a tooth’s pulp and root are removed, that tooth is dead.
Root-canaled teeth are dead body parts that we allow to remain attached to our body. Where else in the body do we allow that to occur? If a person with diabetes had a toe that lost is blood flow, would we hollow out the bone, fill it with inert material and call it a day? No way! But that’s exactly what we do with teeth that have root canal therapy.
Holistic Alternatives to Root Canals
Fortunately, there are alternatives to root canals that I believe are safer and more effective. In most cases, if a tooth’s health has deteriorated to the point where a root canal would be recommended, it is frequently a more predictable choice to remove the entire tooth and replace it with a dental implant.
Dental implants are made from titanium or zirconia which are incredibly strong materials that are naturally compatible with the human body. Dental implants are secured directly to your jawbone making them very secure and long-lasting.
Additionally, dental implants actually encourage bone and tissue growth in the same way a natural tooth does. With proper care, a dental implant can last a lifetime. Conversely, the average crown will need to be replaced every 10 years.
My Advice to You: If a dentist recommends that you have a root canal, I’d encourage you to get a second opinion from a holistic dentist who cares about your health rather than one who insists on an archaic treatment wrought with many potential negative side effects. Your best bet is to understand all your options for care and their risks and benefits.
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