When cancer and root canal are placed in a headline together, it can understandably bring about nightmarish feelings of fear in people. Though a root canal is a common procedure conducted across the world every day in a safe manner, the idea that it can potentially cause cancer can lead even the biggest skeptics to raise an eyebrow. A cancer diagnosis is devastating, regardless of which type or what stage, and no one wants to consider potentially exposing themselves or loved ones to unnecessary risks. Luckily, root canals are a very low-risk procedure that certainly will not cause cancer. It’s important for the various myths surrounding root canals to be addressed to ensure that people are not being deceived into fearing and potentially avoiding a sometimes necessary procedure.
Why do we need Root Canals?
For those who are unacquainted, a root canal is when the pulp or the nerve of a tooth is damaged and needs to be removed, ideally before any infection arises. This can happen because of dental trauma like a crack or break, or due to advanced decay, making the surface area of the cavity too great to treat with a simple filling. The dentist is able to keep the basic foundational structure of the tooth by opening it up to remove the damaged nerve, cleaning inside, and then sealing it back up. Sometimes the tooth is then fitted with a cap or crown and will look and feel like a normal tooth after the procedure.
The myth that root canals are hours of agony in the dentist’s chair is untrue, as well! It’s been many decades since the introduction of modern technology in dentistry, and the procedure is done under local anesthetic and should be painless. Those who had experienced discomfort when a root canal was involved are usually misapplying or misremembering the pain they felt due to dental trauma or infection that caused the need for the root canal, not the procedure itself.
Origin of the Myth
This century-old tall tale originates from Dr. Weston A. Price, a doctor that conducted early dental research presenting the idea that bacteria trapped in tubules during a root canal could “leak” and cause a focal infection, introducing various diseases into the body causing ailments from gastrointestinal problems, heart and kidney conditions, arthritis, and cancer. His solution to avoid this potential risk was to extract the tooth entirely instead, which brings us to yet another myth surrounding root canals!
People who require root canals have been known to suggest complete tooth extraction as an alternative because they fear it will be a painful procedure, or they’ve heard about the cancer myth. This is absolutely not recommended by any dental professionals, however, as removing a tooth can cause the remaining teeth to shift in the mouth due to the opened space, completely throwing off their bite pattern and potentially leading to orthodontic and jaw issues known as malocclusion. Root canals should actually instead be seen as a major medical advancement, allowing people to keep their natural tooth with a simple procedure, rather than having nerve pain or a possible life-threatening infection like sepsis, while also avoiding expensive treatments like a dental implant to replace the tooth.
For decades after Dr. Price’s ideas were initially brought to light, researchers have been able to refute his claims and inaccurate conclusions with scientific findings. Ironically, they also have found that people who have had multiple endodontic procedures, such as root canals, actually have a 45% reduced cancer risk.
Dangers of the Myth
Though the myth that root canals can cause cancer has been debunked for decades, every so often, we will come across a clickbait article on social media or elsewhere on the internet proclaiming that it’s indeed true and that the secret will shock us! Many pseudoscientific “health gurus” seem to revive the legend almost annually, leading to unfounded panic.
The rise of holistic health interests over the past decade or so has led some to look into ancient (and outdated) wisdom or practices as an alternative to modern medicine. In some cases, the people seeking out this information may feel they’ve been wronged by medical professionals in the past, or have had negative experiences with a procedure or diagnosis. Their distrust of mainstream healthcare is then exploited by unaccredited bloggers who purport these debunked and erroneous myths as facts that are being kept secret from the masses as a sort of conspiracy. In other cases, people are merely gullible and are not aware that anyone can pose as an expert and publish an article on the internet.
The people who are fooled into sharing these recycled tall tales as truth are actually the victims in these cases. The ones to blame are the “gurus” who continue to republish outdated and false information, misleading people despite an overwhelming abundance of scientific proof and findings. This kind of fear-mongering is dangerous and can potentially lead people to neglect their oral health and avoid necessary procedures, such as root canals, potentially causing great harm to their health or even fatal consequences if an infection is left untreated.
Root Canal Facts
Now that we’ve debunked some myths surrounding root canals, it’s also important to remember that a root canal is still a surgical procedure. There are some complications that can occur once you’ve had a root canal like some pain when the numbness wears off. It should not be severe, though, if it is, there may be additional areas that are causing the problem that also needs to be treated. Sometimes the root of the tooth is cracked but was undetected, which is susceptible to bacteria growth. These issues can be fixed by your dentist, so it’s important to communicate with them upon your root canal appointment.
Dental trauma notwithstanding, the best way to avoid needing a root canal is to take good care of your teeth and keep up with cleanings and checkups. Should you need one, rest assured they are safe, as 25 million endodontic procedures are performed every year successfully without any resulting illnesses or cancers.