A very interesting article was published in JADA (Journal of the American Dental Association), August 2009 issue, that provides fascinating research regarding root canals.
A root canal is usually performed on a tooth that has become abscessed or infected due to extensive decay. The decay results in exposure to the pulp chamber or some sort of trauma that causes the tooth to become non-vital. Symptoms usually include pain and/or swelling to the affected area.
Endodontic therapy (removal of the necrotic, or decayed, tissue within the pulp) seems to be the logical solution. Not only can you save the tooth but you can also eliminate the severe pain often associated with this situation.
What’s interesting about this article, entitled; “The relationship between self-reported history of endodontic therapy and coronary heart disease in the Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities Study,” is that it provides extensive research that suggests a connection between root canals and heart disease.
Mechanically speaking, a root canal serves the purpose of saving the tooth. However, from a biological perspective, I’ve always been concerned about the potential health effects that this procedure can have on the rest of the body.
I have personally submitted over 200 extracted root canal teeth for biopsy reports. Surprisingly, the results indicated that these teeth were quite toxic. It only makes sense that, if this toxic condition is present inside the tooth, it certainly has the potential to spread to other parts of the body. This would operate in the same manner as the well established linkage between periodontal disease affecting the health of one’s body.
Research provided in this article states, “Endodontic inflammation occurs after bacteria or their byproducts enter a tooth’s pulp chamber. Acute endodontic inflammation generally manifests as a toothache, whereas chronic endodontic inflammation can remain asymptomatic for months or years.”
This statement indicates that although a root canal tooth may not be causing any discomfort or pain, there usually is a chronic inflammatory or infectious condition persisting within the tooth. Does this sound like a healthy situation for the tooth, mouth or body?
Solution? Tooth extraction is an option. Although this may not be a popular choice since no one likes to lose a tooth, there are worse things that can happen than removing a tooth, such as heart disease, as pointed out by the article referenced above. This shows that serious health consequences may result if we do nothing to protect our patients. We, as dentists, should at least educate them to the potential ill effects that root canals may present.
The conclusion in this article states, “Among participants with 25 or more teeth, those with a greater self-reported history of endodontic therapy were more likely to have coronary heart disease than were those reporting no history of endodontic therapy.”
I hope this article receives the public attention it deserves. In my opinion, the dental profession should take a serious look at the biological aspects that root canals can have on a patient’s health, rather than just focusing on the mechanical considerations.
Saving a tooth with endodontic therapy may not be the only solution if it means compromising the overall health and wellness of the patient. I hope this article is a catalyst for enlightening the dental profession about the tooth and body connection resulting from root canals.
If you would like to read the article from the JADA (Journal of the American Dental Association), August 2009 issue in its entirety, click on the Resources page in the left column, and look under Biological Information.