Root canal treatment — referred to as "endodontic therapy" in dentistry — is one of the safest and most successful dental procedures performed today. According to an article in the European Journal of Dentistry (EJD), this treatment is very predictable, with success rates ranging from 86% to 98%. Even so, many people are frightened by the thought of root canal dangers. Here's what you need to know about the safety of root canal procedures and the rare complications that can occur.
Before the invention of endodontic therapy, extraction was the only available option to treat badly broken, infected or abscessed teeth. Thankfully, most of these infections or injuries can now be safely and comfortably addressed with root canal treatment. More straightforward cases may be treated by your family dentist, while more complex cases might be referred to a specialist called an endodontist.
During the procedure, your dentist will create a small opening in the tooth to access and remove the inner nerves — or pulp tissue — and seal the canal with a strong material to prevent the spread of any infection, as the American Dental Association (ADA) outlines.
According to an article published by the American Association of Endodontists (AAE), the genesis of much of the fear surrounding root canal treatment seems to have come from poorly conducted research dating back to the early 1900s. Although much of this misinformation continues to persist on the internet, the AAE has also taken steps to address several lingering myths that relate to endodontic treatment.
These false root canal dangers should not deter you from having this tooth-saving treatment when needed. The procedure itself is relatively painless, thanks to root canal pain management techniques, such as anesthetics.
As with all medical and dental procedures, there are risks involved with root canals. As the EJD article outlines, some factors that can cause root canal complications include:
Persistence of BacteriaThe presence of bacteria within an endodontically treated tooth or around the tip of the root can cause failure. This is why your dentist is trained to properly clean and sterilize the canals when performing root canal therapy. According to the ADA, you may also need a course of antibiotics to control any infection.
Inadequate FillingCanals that have been underfilled or overfilled with sealant material have, in some cases, shown a higher likelihood of failure.
Improper SealIt is important to have a final restoration that not only strengthens a treated tooth but also provides an adequate seal to prevent bacteria from finding its way in and potentially causing problems. Your dentist will assess the treated area to make sure your crown fits properly over your tooth.
Broken InstrumentsRoot canal therapy is accomplished with the aid of very fine instruments that help the dentist clean out any bacteria and residual tissue in the canal while shaping it for sealing. Occasionally, one of these delicate instruments can break or separate. This situation can sometimes affect the success of an endodontically treated tooth.
Untreated CanalsTeeth sometimes have more canals than roots, and they can be difficult to find and to navigate. If your dentist misses a canal, this may cause complications.
If any of these problems arise during or after your root canal, an endodontist will provide endodontic retreatment to address the issue, ease any discomfort and get your tooth back in working order, explains the AAE.
In spite of these occasional complications, root canal therapy remains one of the safest, most successful and most valuable dental procedures available today. Getting the treatment you need will ensure your mouth is healthy and pain-free.