Root canal therapy (endodontics) is a routine dental procedure with a high success rate that isn't normally any more painful than getting a filling.
If any of this surprises you, it's probably because outdated information and misconceptions continue to make root canal treatment the most misunderstood dental procedure.
If you've been told you need a root canal treatment, there's no need to panic. Read these truths behind the myths and look forward to being free from the discomfort and dangers of an infected tooth!
Myth 1 – Root canal treatment is painful
Your dentist may recommend endodontic therapy to treat an infected or damaged tooth. If a tooth is infected, this exposes the soft tissues in the centre – the dental pulp – to bacteria and the outside world. The pulp is very sensitive and contains the tooth nerve, so common symptoms of a pulp infection include pain and sensitivity to temperature.
Many people who've had a root canal treatment in the past remember this pain and may associate it with their dental experience. Of course, by removing the infection and restoring the tooth, root canal treatment actually takes away the pain and discomfort.
The procedure itself is carried out using local anaesthetic, so you won't feel any pain. If you feel anxious about the treatment though, your dentist may offer more sedatives such as inhalation sedation to help you feel calm and relaxed. They'll also prescribe pain relief and anti-inflammatory medication to help relieve your symptoms during your recovery period, when you'll no longer be troubled by the persistent toothache and sensitivity.
If you delay visiting the dentist because you're worried about root canal treatment, you'll prolong your suffering and there's a chance the infection could spread, which could mean you miss the window to save the tooth.
Myth 2 – Root canal therapy is risky
All surgical procedures carry risks, and your dentist will make sure you understand these before you agree to your treatment. However, with a success rate of 90–95 percent, root canals are not an especially risky procedure. The main complication is if the pulp cavity isn't properly sealed and the tooth becomes infected again, but this is rare when you choose a qualified and experienced endodontist.
The myth linking root canal treatment with health risks has its basis in research done more than 100 years ago that's since been thoroughly debunked. A dentist named Weston Price published findings showing that people who had root canal treatment in their past were more likely to develop serious diseases later. These tests were poorly designed, carried out in unsterile lab conditions and their results have never been able to be duplicated, but even today this myth persists on the internet.
If you have a root canal treatment, there's no reliable evidence that you'll be more likely to get sick than someone who hasn't had a procedure. On the other hand, avoiding a root canal because you're worried about it means the infection could spread to your other teeth. This could mean you need more root canals or even extractions if it's left too late to operate.
Myth 3 – I don't need a root canal if I don't feel pain
Severe toothache and sensitivity to hot and cold are the most common symptoms of a tooth infection that people experience, but this isn't always the case. It's possible for a tooth to be infected and not show any symptoms, at least initially.
Your dentist may spot an infection at an early stage during your regular check-up or when they're examining your mouth for other problems. If so, they may recommend endodontic treatment as soon as possible, so the chance of success will be higher and you can avoid unnecessary suffering later.
Myth 4 – The tooth will just be pulled later anyway
After your tooth is cleared of infection and sealed with a dental crown, it can last as long as your other teeth, provided you take good care of your oral health. Treated teeth sometimes turn grey over time, but they will still function as normal.
In rare cases, the root canal procedure may fail and the tooth will need to be extracted. However, extractions are a last resort for dentists, who will do everything they can to save a tooth first. The high success rate of root canal therapy means it's always worth a try, unless the tooth is so severely damaged or decayed that restoration is unlikely.
Fixing rather than pulling a tooth is also in your interest, as removing a tooth unnecessarily will leave an unsightly gap. This can increase your risk of oral health problems, cause nearby teeth to go crooked and affect your speech. If you decide to fill the gap with an artificial tooth, this could involve more complex surgery and higher costs than the root canal procedure would have.
Myth 5 – Root canals are expensive
It's true that root canal therapy can sometimes be expensive, depending on how many appointments you need and your financial situation, but many people are eligible to access financial help to cover the cost. This may include:
- Health funds – endodontics is considered a general dentistry treatment, which means it's covered by most health insurance that includes dental cover. This will usually cover the cost of the crown too.
- Medicare – children's root canal treatments are covered by the Australian Government's Child Dental Benefits Schedule (CDBS). This provides up to $1,000 of dental cover over two calendar years for kids aged 2–17.
- Payment plans – if you're not eligible for free root canal treatment, ask if your dentist offers flexible finance arrangements that allow you to spread the cost over a number of instalments.
Your dentist will let you know what finance options are available during your consultation.
Need a root canal in Brisbane?
If you think you might need root canal therapy, or you just need a check-up and clean, our Brisbane dentists in Everton Park and Mitchelton are here to help. Call us today on:
Everton Park: (07) 3355 1422
Mitchelton: (07) 3354 3341
American Association of Endodontists (AAE). Myths About Root Canals [Online] 2013 [Accessed February 2020] Available from: https://www.aae.org/patients/root-canal-treatment/myths-root-canals/
Better Health Channel. Root canal treatment [Online] 2019 [Accessed February 2020] Available from: https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/ConditionsAndTreatments/root-canal-treatment
Healthdirect. Root canal treatment [Online] 2019 [Accessed February 2020] Available from: https://www.healthdirect.gov.au/root-canal-treatment