How often have you heard someone say, “I’d rather have a root canal than…”? Maybe their next-to-worst nightmare is visiting the in-laws, scrunching into the middle seat on a crowded airplane, or scrubbing the bathroom.
But seemingly, nothing could be worse than a root canal. It’s a casual joke that most of us have made at some point in our lives.
The good news is that the joke doesn’t make a whole lot of sense these days. Modern-day root canals have come a long way through advancements in technology and treatments; they are thorough, effective, quick, and pain-free. Best of all, root canals can even help boost your physical and mental health.
I should know — I’m a root canal specialist. The technical term for my specialty is endodontics, but I prefer to think of it as “tooth saving.”
What Is a Root Canal?
Root canal therapy is necessary when bacteria invade the pulp space and start to create an infection. Bad bacteria can enter the pulp by way of decay or a cavity through a crack, through the gums, or in some instances, through trauma. The ultimate goal of a root canal is to remove the harmful bacteria and the nerve that has been infected from inside the tooth. This disinfects the tooth and gets it back into form and function, saving your tooth from needing to be removed. Once bacteria get into the pulp, your only two options are a root canal or an extraction. See why prevention is important here?
Let me put it to you a bit more simply. If you imagine your roots are like a Twinkie, a root canal would be like taking out the cream because you have dirty cream. Once that area in the middle is taken out, we give it some fresh cream! That’s how you should imagine what we are doing during your root canal.
Ultimately, root canals are a form of biohacking: a method of changing your own body chemistry and physiology in a way that optimizes your health. Just like you might change your diet to lose weight, get more sleep to feel rested, or breathe deeply to calm your nervous system down — you can have a root canal to get your oral microbiome back in ship shape.
Root Canals versus Extractions and Your Physical Health
Root canals are often the final treatment option for a tooth that otherwise would need an extraction. And some teeth really do need an extraction. But when you have an option between the two treatments, I always advocate for root canals. Here’s why.
Like diamonds, extractions are forever. Once you pull that tooth, it’s gone. This happened to me, in fact! I had an awful infection that was misdiagnosed with the wrong tooth. A healthy tooth got extracted as a result, and I can never get it back.
An extracted tooth can lead to bone loss because the purpose of our jaw is to hold our teeth. So, when a tooth is missing, the jaw loses a part of its purpose, and the bone can start to go away. This can lead to changes in the positions of our other teeth, and to our bite. It can even impact your digestion (because your teeth are the first part of your digestive process), speech, and airway!
Fortunately, some implants and partials can help restore the aesthetics of your smile after an extraction, but these come with their own drawbacks, and they can be very expensive.
On the other hand, root canals only take a couple of hours in the hands of a skilled clinician, are very often painless, and are generally less expensive than the cost of extraction and implant combined.
Best of all, they keep your natural tooth in your mouth and restore your mouth to health, preserving your bone, and even allowing you to grow bone back if it has been lost due to an infection in your tooth. Your bite, digestive process, speech, and beautiful smile will all be intact.
How Root Canals Can Positively Impact Your Mental Health
You probably know that having a friendly smile is essential in all parts of your life. Whether you’re acing a job interview or a first date, or just giving support to a friend or loved one, your smile is a part of how you communicate.
I consider myself so privileged that I get to help patients save their natural teeth, and bring them back to full oral health so that they can be less anxious and more confident. The power of a root canal truly is incredible!