Should I get a root canal?
These days, getting root canals is a controversial dental procedure but thirty years ago when I had my first root canal done at age 17, I didn’t question what was being done to me.
I will never forget the throbbing, terrifying and debilitating pain so deep inside my head that I didn’t even recognize it as toothache. A friend drove me to the Otago Dental School where they couldn’t see a cavity to blame for the pain. After a consultation involving a crowd of students, the supervising dentist advised drilling a hole in the back of my right lateral incisor. An overpoweringly shameful smell of rotten meat seemed to flood the huge teaching clinic, confirming that they had pinpointed the infected tooth.
In the three decades since my first root canal, books like The Toxic Tooth by Robert Kulacz and Root Canal Cover-Up by Dr George Meinig have raised public awareness that a ‘high percentage of chronic degenerative disease can originate from root filled teeth’ (Meinig).
However, most dentists continue to recommend and perform root canals without hesitation while most holistic dentists believe all teeth with root canals should be removed.
When professionals are so divided it can be hard to make a decision for your own teeth, especially if you are in pain.
I believe that because everyone is unique, with different combinations of genetics, lifestyle, dental history, family histories, personal health, budgets and priorities there can be no simple answer to the question ‘should I get a root canal?’.
That’s why I’ve developed a list of questions designed to help tease out the aspects of each unique situation that may have a bearing on a root canal decision.
The majority of questions to be considered are actually the same for either getting or removing a root canal. However, your answers may lead you to a different conclusion, depending on whether you are getting new root canal or having an old one removed.
This article is split into two parts, Part 1 (this post) is for people who are considering a new root canal. Part 2 is for people who have a root canal already and who are considering its removal.
Disclaimer: Please be aware that I am not a dental professional and I am offering information for educational purposes only. If you are thinking about acting on the basis of any information in this article, I encourage you to do your own additional research, use your own common sense and take responsibility for your own health choices. However, do not delay in addressing any infection in your mouth, because if left untreated, there can be serious, long-term health consequences, up to, and including, death.
What is a root canal?
The root canal procedure involves the removal of the pulp (nerve, blood and lymphatic tissue) from within the hollow roots (canals) of the tooth.
The canal is sterilized and then packed with a material that seals off the canal. The idea is to quarantine the sterilized canal to keep it free from further infection.
Once the root is packed and sealed, a crown or filling is built up to recreate the original shape of the tooth and provide a biting surface (this is often done at a second appointment, with a temporary filling in place for a few weeks between).
To understand why so many people consider root canals to be a health risk, you need to know the anatomy inside your teeth.
Enamel is the outside covering of the tooth, dentin is the material under the enamel and pulp fills the canal at the center of the tooth, extending down into the roots.
These tubes in the dentin and the enamel can also carry fluids from the saliva into the enamel and through the dentin down into pulp and eventually via the bloodstream to the rest of your body.
The tubes are so tiny, and so numerous that if the tubes from just one tooth were laid end to end they would be three miles long!
Mark A Briener, dentist and author of Whole Body Dentistry declares ‘it is absurd to believe all those millions of tiny tubules could possibly be “sterilized” during the process of performing a root canal.’
After the procedure, any bacteria unavoidably left behind in the sealed tubes begins to metabolise anaerobically and give off toxins that can enter the bloodstream and attack the parts of your body that are genetically weak or under stress.
Assessing root canal risks
Before you decide to get a root canal, its a good idea to assess how much you are at risk.
To help you to make a personal risk assessment quickly and comprehensively, I’ve discussed the 10 questions below into a downloadable checklist to help you interpret your answers to make a decision.
Screenshot and save or print The Root Canal Decision Checklist below and use it to help make a decision about treatment quickly, even if your thoughts are fogged with pain or drugs.
Some of the questions are for yourself to answer, perhaps with the help of your family.
Your dentist, doctor or other health professionals may be able to help answer other questions based on an examination or interview.
You may also choose to get some tests to get more certainty.
The Root Canal Decision Checklist
How strong is my immune system?
How good is my overall health?
Is there a family history of degenerative diseases?
What other body parts does this tooth relate to and how resilient are they?
Am I willing to risk bacterial infection?
Is a root canal being recommended for a cavity that has already exposed the root?
Do we know for sure exactly which tooth is causing the problem?
Is laser sterilization an option?
Could I live without this tooth for chewing or looks?
What is my budget? What are the costs of the root canal, alternatives or possible follow up procedures?
I hope these questions help you to make the best decision about whether or not to get a new root canal. If you already have a root canal, and are considering having it removed, read Part 2 of this article about existing root canals.
Hello! I'm Meliors Simms, the Holistic Tooth Fairy.
As a natural oral health coach I have worked with hundreds of clients worldwide to avoid unnecessary dental procedures and have better experiences with the necessary ones. (Find out about my coaching services here).
After a diverse career (from research to counselling to arts) and a lifetime of terrible teeth, I stumbled on an Alt Oral approach which prevented what would have been my 7th root canal.
That inspired years of independent research and experimentation, eventually resulting in my uniquely holistic approach to oral health.
My new book The Secret Lives of Teeth is a comprehensive guide to healing teeth and gums with metaphysical perspective. Read a sample here for free.