Everything You Need to Know About Root Canal Complications

Do you know what causes root canal complications?

Root canals are one of the most common procedures performed at most dental offices today, with approximately 40 million performed annually in the United States alone. The procedure (technically known as endodontic therapy or endodontic treatment) involves the removal of infected pulp from a tooth, then the reshaping, sealing, filling and crowning of the cavity left behind.

Many people have had a root canal done—but what if that procedure isn’t the panacea once believed by both dentists and patients alike? What if root canals can actually cause more problems?

Root canals have had a long and controversial history. Emerging research has now questioned conventional root canal procedures, and are being examined for it’s possible role in actually complicating systemic health conditions, including heart disease, diabetes and autoimmune conditions. (14, 19, 20, 22)

Here are some root canal complications you may encounter:

Root Canal Complications

Root canal complications can come from anaerobic bacteria getting trapped in teeth after a root canal. Those bacterial pathogens can be a source of chronic inflammation and infection, leaking toxins into the bloodstream and surrounding tissue and threatening systemic heath. The presence of anaerobic microbes was discovered in the blood and root canals analyzed from 26 patients with no pain symptoms. The anaerobic bacteria found cause pneumonia, acne, and necrotic tissue infections among other ailments. These pathogens also serve as major inflammatory mediators inducing disease in the body. (11,12)

Dentists try their best to sterilize the inside of a tooth that’s undergoing a root canal procedure, but it’s basically impossible to completely sterilize a tooth. In fact, in some studies,  bacteria can gain a better foothold in a tooth that’s had a root canal. (18)

A tooth is more like a sponge than a solid structure, made out of tubules that radiate from the main section at the center. Those tubules can hold bacteria easily outside of the range of any sort of debridement and disinfectant. (5, 10)

Numerous studies in which biopsies were performed on extracted teeth which had been endodontically treated (root canalled) have shown remnants of necrotic debris still in that root canal,  meaning that they were not thoroughly cleaned. Microbiological cultures of the surrounding bone showed infection almost 100% of the time. (1, 2, 5)

Until anaerobic bacteria are removed, the body’s natural defenses are compromised, and those root canal complications can make your health as a whole go downhill. The health of your teeth is directly tied to the health of your whole body, and if anaerobic bacteria are sealed into a root canal tooth, you’re liable to have health problems going forward. (16, 17)

In a correlative study, root canals have even been suspected in a link to breast cancer. Biologic dentists believe that infections in teeth affect “energetic links,” known as meridians, to various body organs. Upper right and left first molars lie on the chart of meridians to the corresponding right and left breast. These meridians are thought of as a “switch” to our immune system. With disease or inflammation in these teeth, it is believed to “turn off the switch” of optimal immune function to these organs, and increase the risk for disease, or worse cancer, to take hold.

Dead tissue always causes problems, and dead teeth are just as much of an issue as dead flesh. Oral pathologists have observed chronic inflammation in tissue specimens around extracted root canaled teeth. As a result, an increasing number of research clinicians believe root canals are not nearly as safe as most people think they are.

There’s also the possibility of a missed crack or some defective material in the sealing of the root canal. And over time, root canal teeth can lose their structural integrity, too. If this happens, the problem is even worse—it facilitates the spread of bacteria and toxin through the body, while keeping a warm, wet, dank environment that allows for easy growth. (10)

These faults in the tooth are root canal complications that have to be dealt with through further surgery and further invasive oral procedures.

Sometimes these can be the fault of improper after care, but there’s a risk either way. No tooth that’s gone through a root canal procedure is immune. If you’re looking for an option that’s completely safe, there really isn’t one, although improved techniques have been shown to improve disinfection of the tooth and better root canal filling techniques. These include the use of lasers, and ozone therapy to achieve greater disinfection and better sealing of the root canals with filling material.

All of this doesn’t necessarily mean that every person who goes through an endodontic procedure will have root canal complications, of course. Some depends on the immune system and nutrition of the individual. But, it is now known that the risks are much higher than are traditionally stated. The bottom line is that  it’s basically impossible to make a dead tooth entirely safe to keep despite the efforts of modern endodontics in the past 75 years. (18)

Root Canal Alternatives

At Rejuvenation Dentistry, we believe in holistic care and follow principles of biologic dentistry. These include looking at root causes of disease in the mouth and not symptom-driven care. We don’t think of your oral health as something completely divorced from the rest of your body, but as an integral part of your health as a whole. In fact, Rejuvenation Dentistry founder, Dr. Gerry Curatola authored the book, The Mouth-Body Connection to educate everyone on the importance of viewing your mouth as both a “mirror” and “gateway” to disease in the body. The book is available on Amazon

Root canal complications can be an issue because they have been linked to systemic illness, not just because they may affect only the tooth or the mouth. (9, 11, 19) We believe in a more measured approach than just jumping straight to “root canal”. We will also present alternatives to root canal treatment such as zirconia dental implants, which offer superior biocompatibility.

When someone comes to us with a tooth that has gone through a root canal procedure, we go through a few options. Dr. Curatola and his team carefully evaluate every tooth that has had a root canal performed to see what the aftereffects are.

We look for inflammation, infections, cysts, and cavitation (or voids in the bone). 2-dimensional X-rays aren’t reliable in finding these symptoms of secondary issues, which is why we utilize a 3-dimensional cone beam scan. In cases where there are issues, we’ll figure out what the best way forward is based on the individual situation.

When someone comes to us with a tooth that would usually be a candidate for a root canal procedure, we evaluate a little differently. Dr. Curatola does not consider a root canal treatment optimal, but occasionally there are cases where it may be undertaken. If the tooth is still vital, there is sterile pulp present, and there is no dental abscess, it may be an option that is on the table.

New treatment options are available for teeth that have offered hope for keeping the tooth alive and vital. These include regenerative therapies that help rebuild tissue, revascularizing the dental pulp. Some stem cell and advanced laser therapy techniques hold promise too.

No matter what the case, Dr. Curatola and his team are committed to the best possible option for the patient’s long-term health. That includes options like removal of the tooth with replacement dental implants and other restorative possibilities.

We want to make sure that you live a long, happy, healthy life—and that starts with good oral health. Oral health is only a part of the overall health of the body. We avoid root canals where possible because we believe that they are often detrimental to the long-term prospects of a patient, causing issues that could be resolved by alternative treatments more easily.

Toxic teeth can look and feel fine for many years while causing problems under the surface. Don’t let your teeth affect your body’s overall health through root canal complications. Explore every option and live a longer, healthier life.

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