When it comes to dreaded treatments at the dental office, most fearful patients rank root canals at the top of their list. Much of the fear associated with root canal therapy, however, is likely due to misconceptions. Let's consider some of the most persistent myths regarding root canal therapy:
I'll definitely know if I need a root canal. Most patients mistakenly assume that if they're not in severe pain, they certainly don't need root canal therapy. It's true that tooth pain sometimes indicates the need for a root canal, but that's not always the case. In fact, some patients who need a root canal have no pain at all because the nerve in the affected tooth has died. Yet the tooth still needs treatment, as a dead tooth in the mouth can lead to infection.
Root canals are painful. In the minds of fearful patients, root canal therapy and pain go hand in hand. In fact, it's often the fear of pain that results in anxious patients avoiding dental treatment for years at a time. Indeed, root canal therapy likely was painful in the past, before modern dental treatments were commonplace. Modern dentistry has come a long way and most patients report that root canal therapy is not painful at all. It’s more like just getting a filling.
Root canal treatment isn't a long-term fix. Some patients avoid root canal therapy, reasoning that it's just a temporary fix that will need to be addressed again down the road. However, dentists consider root canal treatment a long-term restorative solution. Of course, no dental restoration lasts forever, but if the patient practices good oral hygiene, the benefits of root canal therapy can save a tooth for many years.
Extraction is a better choice. If the tooth is severely damaged anyway, isn't extraction a better option than restoration? Yes, sometimes extraction of a tooth and replacement with a dental implant is an alternative. Every situation is different and the options should be discussed with your dentist. Extraction of a tooth without replacement can result in bone loss and shifting of the bite. Even with the advent of alternatives such as dental implants, root canal treatment to save a tooth is still often the best alternative.
Peter J. Samuels, DDS is a local Gettysburg dentist and a clinical instructor at the University of Maryland School of Dentistry.