Monday, January 13, 2014

Do Root Canals Cause Cancer?-Crysral Lake Dentist

A little history lesson please!!!

Root Canal Treatment Goes Back Thousands of Years.

There are historical instances of all manner of objects and materials being placed in the root canal space of teeth including bird droppings as a means of treating teeth. Studies and published articles go back over three hundred years demonstrating various techniques and materials to treat infected teeth. The various theories of what is being done and why are all over the place. The good news from this is that even though these practices have been discontinued, over time a common sense approach,  improved methods, and materials has led to a very consistent high success rate for root canal treatment.

Modern Root Canal treatment Begins in the Last Half of the 20th Century.

The modern ideas for root canal treatment began in the 1950's with the use of certain irrigating techniques and standardized instruments and materials. Root canal treatment has continued to evolve with advances in technology and materials so that today root canals (endodontic treatments) are highly predictable and successful when all of the necessary steps are followed. Importantly the placing of a well-fitting crown and buildup are part of a properly completed root canal treatment.

What Does This Have to do with Cancer and Other Diseases?

In the early 1900's the "focal infection" theory was developed. This theory stated that essentially a tiny localized infection would cause inflammation and disease in other body organs and systems. In addition the bacteria causing the localized infection would quickly morph into other bacteria which were much more dangerous. These more dangerous bacteria and byproducts would travel freely through the body seeking organs and body systems to damage or destroy. So some claimed that this "focal infection" was leading to cancer. Once this localized infection was removed, the other body organs and systems would recover.  This focal infection theory was popular for about 25 years and led to the amputation of many body parts. This focal infection theory stated that since teeth that were infected had previously been successfully treated with root canals were still considered infected. Consequently, the idea was advanced that all of these teeth needed to be removed. In the 1920's, studies were done by a dentist "Dr. Weston Price". He showed that these infected teeth could kill lab rabbits quickly. He also attempted to document how by removing these teeth, many people who were previously suffering from all sorts of ailments were instantly cured. For the next 25 years, this theory and Dr. Price's reports led to the removal of countless teeth. 

What Have We Learned Since Then about "Focal Infections"?

The studies by Dr. Price were and others were flawed and had no valid controls. In addition, published studies since then have failed to produce or reproduce the same effect claimed be Dr. Price. The subsequent study of abscesses, bacteremia, and blood testing of individuals find that the bacteria found in these lesions show that bacteria from the mouth play almost no role in infections in other parts of the body. We now know that bacteria do not evolve/mutate at any rate close to what Dr. Price was showing. Dr. Price had several accomplishments that did advance dentistry, however his lab experiments and claims about focal infections have placed a dark cloud over his accomplishments. 

Our Immune System is More Than Capable of Handling Oral Bacteria!

The human race would not exist if it could not handle the bacteria from the mouth. The human immune system is dealing with bacteria from the oral cavity constantly from accidental lip, cheek, tongue biting, injuries, from hard foods, flossing/tooth-brushing, dental cleanings, etc. These injuries would have killed off the host shortly after birth if the immune system could not deal with the bacteria.

Why do claims like these about dentistry circulate?

There are several reasons:

  • Many in the Holistic community truly believe some of the claims that are made without any good science to back it up.  They refuse to seek out properly performed scientific tests for evidence for their beliefs.
  • Many people love a good conspiracy theory as well and think that large companies and organizations are covering up the truth. 
  • Many of these Holistic companies stand to make a lot of money and many are unscrupulously making false claims to do so just like the "Snake Oil Salesmen" traveling the country would do in the past.
  • Many people are desperate for simple low cost alternatives to proper health care.
  • Wives’ Tales and folklore abound with home brews and anecdotal miraculous recovery from illnesses that are often a coincidence.
Why Root Canals have a Bad Reputation in general?

Face it you don't just walk into your dentist's office and say hey doctor, I was just passing by and thought I would like to have a root canal treatment just for fun. Root canals and severe pain are linked in the media and society.  OK let’s dissect the reason. Many people who seek a dentist for a painful tooth have waited too long to have the tooth treated hoping the "pain would go away". Well it did not and now the tooth needs to either be removed or treated with a root canal.

So what causes the pain people associate with root canals?

 I will use another body part to explain the inflammation/infection process. If you injured your thumb by either getting an infected splinter in it or hitting it with a hammer, it would do several things at once. It would swell, turn red, and get hot. That is the way the body reacts to injury and infection. In this same way the pulp and periodontal ligament will react to inflammation and infection. Teeth are embedded in bone and the nerve (pulp) is consequently not able to expand when inflamed or infected. When a tissue tries to swell and cannot, the pain level increases dramatically. "Hot" abscessed teeth are much more difficult to numb and take longer for the anesthetic to work. That is just the nature of inflammation and infection anywhere in the body. If the tooth is removed, the pain will subside, but the area will still be sore because part of the body has been amputated. It is the same with a root canal treatment. The pain will improve but it may take some time for the body to recover from the toxic products of an abscessed tooth. Today we have better anesthetics, and better treatment methods as well as better antibiotics and pain relievers to prescribe. It is not the root canal treatment that is the reason people have any pain, but the waiting too long to seek treatment that is causing it. 

Common sense is needed!

The bacterial onslaught from periodontal disease is a much greater danger to a person's health than a tooth with a root canal in it. The modern root canal treatment  with the use of antibiotics, antiseptic rinses, electronic apex locators, magnification, digital x-rays, ultrasonics, rotary nickel titanium instrumentation, high tech  heated Gutta Percha have made it easier, faster and better. The judicious use of antibiotics, better anesthetics, conscious sedation, nitrous oxide (laughing gas), and modern pain relievers have made every procedure in dentistry extremely predictable and more comfortable.

The Truth is Obvious, We Just Need to Face It!

Root canal treatment is one of the most successful procedures a dentist can provide. The cost of replacing a tooth is greater than the cost of the root canal and crown. Patients can avoid unnecessary pain and enjoy the benefits of teeth saved by root canals by seeking professional care as soon as possible rather than waiting till the problem is so serious. Many root canal treatments can be avoided altogether by getting regular dental care and checkups to catch a problem early and treat it with a minor procedure.

Dr. Neal answers all of your questions about Lifetime Dentistry and root Canal Treatment at Crystal Lake Dental Associates.

Your comments are welcome


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  3. I had a root canal for about a week before I finally went in to get it checked. I kept fighting it because I didn't have dental insurance, but luckily I had a friend help spot me. It's among the joys of being a college student. Thankfully, I'm not hurting anymore and I'm brushing my teeth more often, aka, I learned my lesson.

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About Me

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Born in the Midwest. Married with 6 children and 3 grandchildren. Attended Maine West High School, Harper Jr College, Northern Illinois University, the University of Illinois College of Dentistry. Practice in Crystal Lake, Illinois.