Root Canals-Can Your Immune System Handle It?
Most people don’t really understand why root canal therapy can be so detrimental to a person’s health. You may have heard that root canals are “bad”. But why? The answer lies in the anatomy of the tooth itself.
The crown of a tooth is covered with a material called enamel. Enamel is the hardest substance in the human body. It basically serves as a shell of protection around the tooth itself. Within the enamel shell lies a material called dentin. Dentin is a much softer material than enamel. Within the center of a tooth, surrounded by dentin, is a hollow core. This core is called the pulp chamber and it is where the nerve, artery, vein, and lymphatic vessels live within the tooth. (Think of it like a peanut M&M. The hard outer shell is the enamel, the softer inner chocolate is the dentin, and the peanut is the pulp chamber!) This hollow core travels down through the middle of each root of a tooth, carrying the nerve, blood supply, and immune system, into and out of the tooth through a small hole in the tip of the root. The root is not covered with enamel like the crown. The root is covered with cementum, which is not as soft as dentin, but not as hard as enamel. The cementum is connected to the periodontal ligaments which are then connected to the surrounding bone.
So what does this have to do with a root canal? When a root canal is performed, the pulp chamber is accessed and the nerve, artery, vein, and lymphatic vessels are subsequently removed. This is because bacteria have invaded the pulp chamber via dental decay, or a cavity in the tooth. The bacteria that cause a cavity release toxins that infect the pulp chamber and kill the nerve. Once the infected tissue is removed, a material called gutta-percha is used to fill the root where the lifeblood of the tooth once lived, leaving the tooth in the bone for continued use. Sounds pretty straightforward, doesn’t it? Then why are root canals bad? We have to dig a little deeper to discover the source of why.
Teeth are not solid structures. None of the materials that make up a tooth are solid. The enamel and the dentin both are made of millions of microscopic tubules. Actually, there are so many microtubules in one tooth, that if they were set end-to-end, they would stretch THREE MILES! In one tooth! So what does that mean? Well, bacteria are microscopic, right? And bacteria are the reason the pulp chamber is infected, right? But think about it. If dentin is just a bunch of tubes, and dentin surrounds the hollow core in the root that is cleaned out in a root canal, don’t you think those same bacteria climbed into the microtubules in the roots also? And what about accessory canals? Accessory canals are small canals that branch off the main hollow center in the root. These canals carry branches from the main nerve, artery, vein, and lymphatics that are in the middle of the root. But the accessory canals are not cleaned out in root canal therapy because they can’t be physically reached. But once the root filling is placed, the bacteria in the microtubules and accessory canals are sealed in.
You would think the bacteria would then just die. But they don’t. Bacteria are polymorphic creatures, meaning they can mutate and change form depending on their environment. They are trapped in a deep environment with no oxygen. So they mutate to become more virulent and release toxins that are much more toxic.
This is when root canals fail. This is when a secondary infection appears. This is when focal infection can also appear. Focal infections occur when bacteria that infect one part of the body then moves to another area in the body. For example, bacteria from infected gums have been documented numerous times to be found in the cardiovascular system, leading to atherosclerosis that develops into blocked arteries. Focal infections are not a new theory. Even in the early 1900s, Dr. Frank Billings, Dean of the Faculty, Professor, and Head of the Department of Medicine, University of Chicago, found that over 90% of all focal infections originate in the teeth and tonsils. (Meinig, G. (2012). In Root Canal cover-up. preface, Price-Pottenger Nutrition Foundation.
In summary, YES. A root canal can be very detrimental to overall health. The question for you is, can your immune system handle it?