illustration of root canal
Julie Hambleton
Julie Hambleton
May 3, 2023 ·  4 min read

Fact Check: Are root canals dangerous, and do they increase your risk of chronic disease?

Root canals are a common dental procedure; in fact, dentists perform about 25 million of them a year. Have you ever wondered, however, if they’re safe? Or whether they could actually increase your risk of chronic disease? There is a lot of information out there, and it’s hard to know what to trust. To get the facts straight, we did some digging and found the real story.

What Is A Root Canal?

A root canal is a procedure that treats infections and damage to tooth pulp (the soft inner part of a tooth). The pulp can become infected by bacteria or decay, which causes pain and swelling. A root canal is performed by removing the infected tissue from inside the tooth and filling it with plastic or porcelain to prevent decay. The procedure is usually done after a tooth has been injured or infected. (1,2)

How Does A Root Canal Work?

In order to perform a root canal, your dentist must first remove the nerve tissue inside your tooth. Once this tissue has been removed, they’ll fill the empty space with plastic or porcelain material that will allow your tooth to remain strong and healthy. (2)

To perform the procedure, your dentist will numb your tooth with a local anesthetic. They’ll then use a drill to remove any decayed or infected tissue from inside of the tooth. Next, they’ll clean out any remaining bacteria and disinfect the area using a special chemical solution. Once this is done, your dentist will fill the empty space with plastic or porcelain material.

They’ll then cover up the hole in your tooth with a thin layer of filling that will help it to remain strong and healthy. After the procedure has been completed, you may experience some mild discomfort for a few days. However, this should fade as your body recovers from the anesthesia.

What is the fake news about root canals?

There are many myths about root canals that have been widely circulated online over the years. One myth claims that root canals cause chronic infection and disease. These claims, sadly, are sometimes even spread by dentists. They say things like “you should never get a root canal,” or “root canals are bad for your health because they allow bacteria to invade your body.” They say that, no matter what, there is bacteria left behind that will cause infection and health problems. There are dentists and doctors out there that claim they’ve cured people’s arthritis and other outrageous claims just by removing people’s root canal teeth. (3)

The truth is that, in most cases, a root canal is 100% safe and effective. You can’t get an infection from it unless there’s some immune deficiency or if you don’t take care of your teeth afterward. It’s not like getting the tooth pulled out, where bacteria gets into your bloodstream and causes sepsis. That’s what causes infections from those procedures, not the fact that they were done by removing all of the nerve tissue.

The Truth About Root Canals

While there’s no doubt that root canals are an invasive procedure, they do not cause chronic infection or disease. In fact, according to the American Dental Association (ADA), “there is no credible evidence that shows any association between a properly done root canal and any disease.” A root canal is a procedure that removes all of the infected tissue inside a tooth, as well as its nerve and blood supply. The end result is that the tooth stops hurting and it’s preserved. The ADA says that there are many benefits to having a root canal:

  1. You can save your natural teeth by removing infections before they cause major damage
  2. You will not lose any teeth because of decay or gum disease
  3. You will improve your overall oral health by preventing other problems from developing
  4. You will be able to keep eating healthy foods, chewing properly and smiling confidently

When Is A Root Canal Not Advisable?

A root canal is not for everyone. The ADA notes that if you have a tooth with severe decay or multiple cavities, there may be more damage than can be repaired with a root canal alone. If your tooth is already loose or cracked, it won’t benefit from having the nerve removed and then put back in place. It also depends if the patient is able or willing to practice proper dental hygiene after the procedure.

If not, then extraction is usually the better option. If you have any questions about whether a root canal is right for you, schedule an appointment with your dentist. Don’t try to treat any dental problems on your own — it could lead to more serious complications.

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  1. Pulp Fiction.” Science Based Medicine. Grant Ritchey. October 7, 2016
  2. Root Canal Treatment.” AAE
  3. Myths About Root Canals.” AAE