Root canal therapy is a treatment for removing an infection from within a tooth without losing the tooth. Teeth are mostly solid, but each contains a narrow, hollow channel in its root. This space, or canal, is filled with dental pulp, a mass of very fine nerve fibers and very small blood vessels which are attached to larger nerves and larger blood vessels through a small opening at the end of the root.
If germs from tooth decay work their way into the pulp, it gets infected. In most areas of our body, when we have an infection, the area swells up. This is one way that our immune system has of bringing more germ-fighting cells into an area. Unfortunately in the case of an infected tooth, the dental pulp cannot swell as it is surrounded by the rigid walls of the tooth. When the body tries to fight a tooth infection by bringing germ-fighting cells through the opening at the end of the root, the pulp swells against the walls of the canal space causing great pain and ultimately, this swelling strangles off the tooths own blood supply. Once this happens, the dental pulp dies, and germs begin to multiply by feeding off of this dead tissue.
Once this situation occurs, the only courses of action are either extraction of the tooth or root canal therapy. There is no treatment, either mainstream or alternative, including homeopathy that can restore health in this situation unless the tooth is either extracted or treated with root canal therapy.
Root canal therapy involves opening up the biting surface of a tooth and channeling down to the hollow space where the dental pulp is. Once this is accessed, instruments and cleaning solutions are used to remove the infected pulp, disinfect the tooth material, and shape the canal spaces so that they may be properly filled and sealed.
The Controversy about Root Canal Therapy
In the 1940s, Dr. Weston Price performed a series of experiments whereby he showed that root canal treated teeth could cause other infections elsewhere in the body. This spawned the Focal Infection Theory of disease which, among other things, traced many health problems back to tooth infections. In our day and age, modern science has confirmed some of Dr. Prices findings. Within the past few years, health problems such as heart disease, low birth weight babies, and chronic lung infections have all been traced to dental infections. That being said, the techniques of root canal therapy have improved greatly in the past 60 years, so that in most cases (though not all) root canal therapy can be preformed successfully, without leaving behind infections that can be a health problem. Dental infections of all kinds certainly have been linked to health problems, but teeth well treated with root canal therapy are no longer the culprits that they once were.
Still there are a number of problems associated with root canal treatments. First and foremost is the continued use by some dentists of a certain class of disinfectants used to kill off germs within a tooth. These disinfectants, Formocresol or Methyl Cresylate contain formaldehyde, creosote, or some combination of the two. Formaldehyde is embalming fluid. It is a kind of pickling agent for human tissue. This is fine for the dead, but our living body and our immune system often have enough trouble dealing with a tooth infection, let alone a penetrating vapor that destroys all live cells that it comes in contact with. Creosote is a plant resin that is used to keep termites from eating wooden railroad ties. It is toxic for many types of germs and for people as well.
The very reasons that Dr. Price felt that root canal therapy couldnt be successfulthat there are millions of microscopic pores within each root and that it would be impossible to clean out the germs from all of themis the same reason why Formocresol or Methyl Cresylate are so harmful. Their vapors remain in these pores and serve as immune irritants. Depending upon a persons level of health, teeth treated with these substances may continue to be a health problem years later, not because of residual infections, but because of residual chemical irritants.
How Root Canal Treated Teeth Heal
Most teeth treated with root canal therapy, performed using modern technology and avoiding the use of toxic chemicals, remain disease free, strong, painless, and are not a source of other health problems. This is because our immune system is capable of finishing the job that the dentist or endodontist started by performing root canal therapy in the first place. It is true that tooth structure contains millions of microscopic pores, any one of which might harbor some germs that even the best root canal treatment would leave behind. But our body is far from sterile. We are filled with germs of every type, particularly in the tube that starts at our mouth and proceeds to our stomach and intestines and ends at our end! Our immune system can handle more than we know. Once a tooth has been treated with root canal therapy, our immune system essentially mops up what the dentist left behind and whatever it cant reach, it walls off, so that these few germs are no longer capable of eating, growing, or multiplying. It is during this stage that good nutrition, especially Vitamin C, is important and it is during this stage that homeopathic care can oftentimes speed the healing process.
Why Root Canal Therapy may not work or be appropriate
Over my more than twenty years of practicing dentistry, I have witnessed teeth that have been treated with what looked like poorly done root canal therapy being free from all symptoms or problems. Further testing would show no adverse effects on the distant parts of the body connected via acupuncture meridians to that particular tooth. At the same time, I have witnessed teeth that have been treated with what looked like perfectly done root canal therapy, showing persistent symptoms of tooth pain or showing debilitating health conditions in organs tied by their acupuncture meridians to these very teeth. In both cases these are the rarities, most often it is the poorly done root canals that show the problems and the well done ones that dont, but it brings up the whole question of whether it is worth it to have root canal therapy done at all.
My answer to this is that it is a very individual decision. The factors that I consider important are the overall health of the person, their level of sensitivity to various dental materials, the importance of the tooth in question to the health and stability of their mouth, and their capacity to heal. In general, I consider well performed root canal therapy a valuable way to keep a tooth that would otherwise be lost. However, it is not for everybody, and this treatment option needs to be carefully weighed against whatever other treatment options there are.