Root Canals

“What? I need a root canal!” It seems those are the most dreaded words a patient can hear. While having a root canal is by no means enjoyable, it’s generally no different than any other dental procedure. Why is there such a stigma attached to those words “root canal”?

There are several reasons a tooth needs root canal therapy. Some of those include an infection (abscess) and/or acute sensitivity or pain. There are certainly exceptions to the generalizations I am making. My attempt is to dispel what I consider to be a myth.

Patients who regularly visit their dental office for checkups, cleanings and recommended treatment have fewer dental emergencies than those who don’t. This doesn’t mean they have fewer teeth needing root canal therapy. What it does mean is that the treatment is more routine and less emergent than those who visit the dentist with less frequency. The dentist is able to diagnose a problem before it becomes acutely painful or acutely infected. As you can imagine, it is far less eventful to have a tooth worked on when there is no swelling or acute pain. The presence of swelling makes it much more difficult to adequately anesthetize an area. When a person is experiencing intense pain it is far more difficult to achieve proper anesthesia. By not attending to the issue in a timely manner you are setting yourself, and the dentist up for a much more difficult time.

This is the basis for many of the stories we hear about how “horrible” a root canal can be. In general those stories come from people who are predisposed to having a much more difficult and painful experience. I will mention again, there are certainly exceptions to the generalizations I am making. It is human nature to complain. We talk about what a bad day we’ve had when it has been particularly rough. We share details about a car accident, a sickness or terrible weather conditions. Uneventful, healthy, fair weather days pass without a comment.

It is a minority we hear the loudest. Those who have the worst experiences shout the loudest. When was the last time you or a co-worker had a dental visit and returned to work saying, “Just got back from the dentist and it was fine”? We don’t do that. Because of this we remember the “horror” stories rather than the untold stories of the many patients who’ve had root canals that were just fine.

My purpose is not to chastise those who don’t routinely see the dentist. There are so many reasons of which most of us are aware some don’t frequent the dental office on an ideal basis. My purpose is solely to dispel the myth that root canals are horribly painful. In general they are no different than having a filling or a crown.