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Is A Dodgy Tooth The Root Of Your Disease?

When we think of dangerous dental procedures and materials, mercury amalgam fillings are likely to top the list.

However, evidence now suggests that root canals may be the most destructive modern dental practice.

Many adults will experience a serious tooth infection during their lifetime and be recommended root canal treatment.

Although regarded as a routine procedure, root canals may cost you far more than an exorbitant amount of money and pain.


What Does Root Canal Treatment Involve? 

Root canal treatment is a dental procedure that replaces a tooth’s damaged or infected pulp, located in the hollow space in the central part of the tooth, with a filling.

The pulp consists of specialised dental cells called odontoblasts, blood vessels, tissue fibres and some nerve fibres. This pulp is vital to the health of the tooth and is required for the tooth to remain alive.

Once the pulp has been removed as part of a root canal procedure, the tooth is ‘killed’ as it not longer has a blood or nerve supply.

Although a dead tooth may continue to look normal after a root canal procedure, it can become host to a range of potentially harmful bacteria as accumulated toxins can no longer be naturally removed through the tooth’s vascular system.

For root canal treatment to be successful, bacterial populations within the root canal should ideally be eliminated. However, due to the complex anatomy of the tooth and root canal system, this is close to impossible, so bacteria levels should be reduced to as low levels as possible.

Despite a combination of chemical and mechanical root cleaning procedures prior to filling, bacterial persistence after root canal surgery is a common and serious cause of infection and adverse treatment outcomes.

This indicates that certain types of bacteria can survive the chemo-mechnical preparation of treated root canals to induce or prolong tissue inflammation surrounding the tooth.

In fact, research shows over 100 species of bacteria (primarily gram-positive) have been detected in samples taken following root cleaning and preparation procedures, as well as following the application of intra-canal antimicrobial medication.


How Do Bacteria Survive Root Canal Procedures? 

Bacteria can adhere to root canal walls and accumulate, forming communities known as biofilms which can enhance bacterial resistance to antimicrobial treatments, and make detection and identification far more difficult.

Some bacteria are also able to adapt to the new root canal environment and reduced nutrient supply, as well as penetrate dentinal tubules within the calcified tissue of the tooth (dentin) to avoid removal.

Furthermore, once a tooth no longer has a blood and nerve supply, bacteria in the root canal are beyond reach of innate immune defences, and cannot be touched by systemic antibiotic medications either.


The Damage Caused By Bacteria in ‘Dead’ Teeth

It is well known and accepted within the medical community that chronic gum infections are linked to cardiovascular disease. To read more on the relationship between these conditions, click here. 

Research now confirms that periodontal infection (affecting the tissues surrounding the teeth) can also influence the onset and course of respiratory infections as well as impact on metabolic health in diabetes patients.

Through inflammatory and infective pathways, associations are now being drawn between pathogenic mouth infections and their toxic bacterial by-products with systemic diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, chronic kidney disease, osteoporosis and Alzheimer’s disease too.

In summary, when bacteria accumulates in the root of a dead tooth following root canal surgery causing infection (known as apical periodontitis), whether acute or low-grade and chronic, there is an increased likelihood of bacteria spreading to other areas of the body increasing inflammation, tissue injury and elevating the infectious load on the body.

Individuals with compromised immune function are most susceptible to the effects of bacterial translocation from the mouth to the blood stream as they lack the immune defences to keep increased bacteria levels under control.


Are There Any Alternatives? 

As we have learnt, there are a number of long term health risks associated with having a root canal procedure.

However, if a tooth is seriously damaged or infected, a root canal or tooth removal may be the only options available to you.

Expert opinion recommends that in addition to tooth removal, a depth of 1 mm of the bony socket surrounding the infected tooth should be removed to further reduce risk of developing an infection.

What you should do before deciding on a root canal is ensure that your tooth condition is properly diagnosed to avoid unnecessary and drastic treatment.

Get a second or third opinion before making your decision if necessary, and discuss your options thoroughly with your dental practitioner.

Ask yourself, is your health worth saving a diseased tooth rather than having it properly removed? Particularly if you have a history of poor immune function, are susceptible to infections or have any other the conditions discussed above.


Caring For Your Teeth 
You can reduce the chance of needing dental surgery or developing dental decay, oral infections or abscess formation by taking good care of your teeth and gums.

Quit smoking, clean your teeth morning and night using low-chemical, antibacterial toothpastes, floss your teeth daily to remove plaque from places your toothbrush can’t reach and use an alcohol-free, antibacterial mouth wash daily such as the Thursday Plantation Mouthwash.

Diet wise, limit or completely eliminate sugar, refined carbohydrates, alcohol, and caffeine from your diet!

Periodontal disease has been linked to low serum vitamin C levels. Vitamin C can help the body repair and maintain connective tissue health as well as support optimal immune health.


Further Reading: 



Pizzo, G. et al. 2010, Dentistry and internal medicine: from the focal infection theory to the periodontal medicine concept, European Journal of Internal Medicine, Vo. 21

Siqueria, J.F. et al. 2008, Clinical Implications and Microbiology of Bacterial Persistence after Treatment Procedures, Journal of Endodontics, Vol. 34(11)


  • Paul says:

    One of the most important things for gum health/ oral health is to have a regular professional clean to remove the calcified plaque(tartar) . No amount of brushing and flossing gets rid of this and all of us get a build up of this. This should be stressed in your advice section on oral health.


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