A new study just published in The Journal of Endodontics has found that root canals require less follow-up care than tooth implants, although the success rate for the two procedures is about equal. While root canals endeavor to save sick teeth so they don’t need extraction, implants replace troubled or extracted teeth with new ones. Both procedures cost plenty and cause considerable discomfort, but the alternative is plain extraction, which many patients and dentists prefer to avoid.
The research, out of the University of Alabama, concludes that patients who are faced with the loss of a tooth should opt for the root canal to save it, rather than choosing a tooth implant. Says the lead researcher, Dr. James Porter Hannahan, “While the success of both procedures is similar, saving the natural tooth through a root canal rarely requires follow-up treatment and generally lasts a lifetime; implants, on the other hand, have more post-operative complications and higher long-term failure.”
In the study, 129 patients received dental implants and 143 underwent root canals. Follow-up occurred between a year-and-a-half and five years after treatment. Only 2.6 percent of the dental implants had failed in that time, and only .7 percent of the root canals. But 12.4 percent of the dental implants required additional intervention, in contrast to only 1.4 percent of the root canals. Plus, while root canals typically cost between $500 and $1500 per tooth (plus another thousand or so for a crown), dental implants can cost much more. Although they typically fall between $1200 and $3000 per tooth, implants can go as high as $6000 or even $15,000.
Based on this data, it would seem that, as Dr. Hannahan says, root canals are the solution of choice — they cost less and “generally last a lifetime” without further ado.
When Dr. Hannahan and his peers state that root canals are virtually trouble free, it seems they mean “trouble free” for them — not necessarily for you. Their claim does not account for the post-root canal toxicity that can plague you for the rest of your life. As I’ve written in Lessons from the Miracle Doctors (Chapter 12),root canals remove the nerve and infected pulp from the tooth, then sterilize the adjoining canals and seal and refill them so that they can’t get re-infected. But in sealing off the canals, the procedure also seals off the miles of microscopic tubules that run through the tooth’s dentin. These tubules normally have a nutrient-dense fluid running through them. When the tubules get sealed off, the fluid stops running and whatever remains in the tubules stays trapped there. In 100 percent of all root canals, that means at least some bacteria remain, no matter how much sterilizing the dentist does, because it’s virtually impossible to sterilize three miles of empty tubules. Research shows that no disinfectant can remove all the infection, nor can antibiotics reach the bacteria remaining in the tubules once the blood flow to the tooth has stopped.
Trapped inside the tooth cavity, with no blood flow to help with drainage or to carry the body’s natural immune factors to the infected site, bacteria multiply and mutate. Plus, they eventually find their way out of the permeable tooth membrane and “ride” the bloodstream to a new site within the body. Every root canal leaks, which means that all patients who have ever had a root canal have increased their chances of developing continual low-grade infections and other chronic conditions — for life. This is why many natural healthcare practitioners, myself included, recommend avoiding root canals at all costs.
While dental implants may require a bit more fiddling and a bit more money, they probably have less toxic effects. To complete an implant, the patient has a tooth extracted, and then undergoes three or so surgeries to have a titanium post inserted into the jaw. The post basically replaces the tooth root, and a tooth is then affixed to it. The process sounds barbaric, but probably hurts no more than a root canal. While the procedure has a reputation for being safe and often is preferred by holistic practitioners because of the reduced toxicity, some unsettling new research published in the Journal of the American Dental Association indicates a potential, though rare (very rare, if at all), link between oral implants and several forms of oral cancer. You can’t win.
Which brings us to the quandary of what to do if your tooth aches and the dentist says you need a root canal. Your best bet is probably to take care of your teeth and gums in the first place so you can avoid a “damned if you do/damned if you don’t” choice. (Then again, if there even is a cancer problem with dental implants, it’s extremely rare.)
If you already have root canals in place, you can consider having them removed, particularly if you’re experiencing lots of infections or chronic health problems — but it’s essential to find a dentist well acquainted with the removal process and with a sterling track record. Root canals removed sloppily can cause more trouble than the root canal itself.