One Dentist, One Bad Study, And Several Root Canal Myths

Meet Dr. Weston A. Price. Born in 1870, he became a dentist and helped found the National Dental Association. He was a pioneer in dentistry. He improved upon many dental technologies of his time, including X-rays and porcelain and metal inlays. He also did great work on the link between good nutrition and good dental health. Today, we might have called him a holistic dentist, as he looked to improve his patient’s overall health through dental treatments. All in all, Dr. Price has an important place in dentistry.

Not everything he did was perfect, however. His work on root canals created a lot of drama still playing out today.

Back in the 1920s, Dr. Price was researching how dentistry affect your overall health. For example, an untreated gum infection can spread to other parts of your body. Treating gum disease properly can help prevent that. Instead of this, he began focusing on root canals. He was worried that removing the infected pulp from inside the tooth would lead to health problems elsewhere in the body. Eventually, he stumbled across and marketed focal infection theory.

According to this theory, removing the infection can spread it through the body. If the infection stays inside the tooth, it won’t go anywhere else. Since root canals open a small hole in the enamel and remove the infection, this let’s it escape. Dr. Price thought that removing an extracted tooth would be much more healthy. He published a paper called Dental Infections, Oral and Systemic with claims that root canals lead to all kinds of problems. Your only choice? Get your teeth extracted. Anything else would cause infections, sickness, arthritis, or worse.

Here’s the problem: Dr. Price was wrong.

By the late 1920s, dentists began pointing out problems with Dr. Price’s research. Soon, more research was done by other dentists that showed Dr. Price was incorrect. It wasn’t his fault, really. He made some mistakes to be sure, but he was also dealing with the imprecise dental tools of his time. By the 1950s, all dentists knew root canal therapy was much better than removing a tooth. Root canals remove infection, after all.

However, the damage was done. Word had spread that root canals were somehow dangerous and could spread disease. You know how difficult it is to squash a rumor, even when it’s obviously false. Even today, there are a few people online who claim Dr. Price’s study was “suppressed” by both the dental and medical health communities. These people claim root canals create disease, cause arthritis, and even cause cancer. (They’re never sure on how that happens, of course.)

That has led to several very stubborn but very incorrect myths about root canal therapy.

Myth #1: Root canals are very painful.

This rumor may have had some truth to it last century, but it’s patently false today. In a root canal, the dentists at both of our Rochester, MN dental offices will make a small hole in your enamel. Since enamel has no nerve endings, this is painless. Then we carefully remove the infected pulp. You’ll get a local anesthetic before this happens, so you should feel nothing. Then we seal up the tooth with a dental crown. All in all, getting a root canal creates the same level of discomfort as getting a filling.

Myth #2: Extracting the tooth is better and safer than a root canal.

This is definitely part of Dr. Price’s discredited research. He believed that opening the tooth allowed the infection to spread. His only recommendation was extracting the tooth. This would keep the infection in the tooth. All of that is incorrect. You are better off keeping your natural teeth whenever possible. That’s why extractions at either of our Rochester, MN locations is done as a last resort. Modern root canals are quick, effective, and safe. Besides, removing a tooth creates bleeding, which means bacteria can slip into your bloodstream.

Myth #3: Root canals cause illness, arthritis, cancer, and so on.

Again, that old scientific study comes back to haunt us. Dr. Price claimed getting a root canal would lead to all kinds of illnesses. Conspiracy theorists can even claim this treatment causes arthritis and cancer. None of that is true. Because root canals remove infection, the actually help prevent health problems.

It’s amazing how one bad study can have such a lasting impact. But to be clear, root canal therapy is safe and effective. Often, it is the only treatment that can remove an infection and save your tooth. Call us today at 507-216-6252 for your next appointment.