In our book The Toxic Tooth, Dr. Thomas E. Levy and I make the case that root canal-treated teeth remain infected, are a focal source of pathogenic bacteria and toxins that disseminate throughout the body, and are a cause of – or contributor to – a host of systemic diseases.
Armed with this information, a person who has an infected tooth has an important decision to make: Do I “keep” this tooth by having a root canal procedure performed on this tooth, knowing that this tooth may subsequently have a negative impact on my health, or do I extract this tooth and elect another type of dental restoration?
The false premise behind root canal procedures revealed
The decision to have a root canal procedure or to extract a tooth is entirely up to the patient and the treating dentist. A root canal procedure allows the patient to keep a functioning tooth in the mouth. This procedure removes the pulp tissue that contains the nerve fibers, thus eliminating any pain from the tooth infection.
However, the patient and the treating dentist both falsely believe that the tooth is now infection-free and incapable of causing any negative systemic health consequence. This is incorrect.
The fact is that a root canal-treated tooth will always remain infected after a root canal procedure and in fact will continue to become more infected over time, producing more and more toxins. These bacteria and bacterial toxins can and do leak out of the root canal-treated tooth and spread throughout the body.
The reason for this is that it is now an established fact that it is impossible to eliminate all the bacteria from the hollow dentinal tubules during a root canal procedure.* It has also been shown that bacteria continue to migrate into the exposed dentinal tubules of the root surface from the periodontal tissues surrounding tooth. So even if a root canal-treated tooth was initially free of bacteria, it will never remain that way and will soon become infected.
How does a root canal procedure threaten human health?
A normal healthy tooth can handle this influx of bacteria because it has an intact immune system and a positive fluid flow from the inside of the tooth outward, pushing the bacteria back outside the tooth. A root canal-treated tooth can do neither.
A root canal-treated tooth is literally just a dead and infected body part, which harbors pathogenic bacteria hidden from the defenses of the body’s immune system – constantly disseminating bacteria and bacterial toxins into the body. This is because the infected root canal-treated tooth is in direct contact with the jawbone, with its rich supply of blood vessels.
No orthopedic surgeon would put an infected implant in another bone in the body. But that is exactly what a root canal-treated tooth is. Although the calcified tissues of a root canal-treated tooth remain intact, the pulp tissue containing blood vessels, nerves, lymphatics and immune cells that once made the tooth alive have been removed.
The tooth is now essentially dead and infected “body made” implant.
What is the safer alternative to a root canal procedure?
It is my opinion that a dental implant is a much better treatment option than performing a root canal on an infected tooth. Instead of a root canal procedure, the infected tooth is extracted and any residual infection in the bone removed.
Then, usually after a six-month healing time, a titanium or zirconim dental implant is placed into the newly healed bone. After sufficient time for the bone to heal around the implant, a tooth restoration is fabricated on the implant replacing the missing tooth.
Some have questioned the safety and toxicity of dental implants. Aside from the leaching of metal ions from the titanium dental implant, I believe dental implants to be a safe and effective restorative option.
Many artificial hips and knees have been replaced with metal implants and although there are cases of negative reactions to the metallic ions leaching from the implant, the vast majority of patients show no negative reaction. A dental implant is made of solid metal so no bacteria can migrate inside the implant. So if the implant is placed appropriately in healthy bone, the implant will remain an infection-free and inert anchor for a replacement tooth.
However, a dental implant can be subject to periodontal disease just like a natural tooth can. In fact, the development of periodontal disease around a dental implant can be worse that that of a natural tooth. A natural tooth has fibers from the surrounding gum tissue inserting into the root. These fibers help form a barrier to bacteria migrating into the supporting bone.
An important health warning about dental implants
A dental implant has a metal post that protrudes through the gum tissue without any fibers from the gum inserting into it. Healthy gum tissue around the implant post forms a tight seal that prevents the migration of bacteria into the surrounding bone. If periodontal disease does develop around the implant, this seal easily breaks down and bacteria can invade the surrounding bone much faster than occurs with a natural tooth.
This may be where some detractors of this procedure have found toxicity associated with dental implants. The toxicity of an implant with periodontitis would be the same as moderate to advanced periodontal disease associated with a natural tooth. However, if the gum tissue surrounding the dental implant is kept clean and healthy, I believe there is little if any associated toxicity and therefore little if any systemic health risk.
Nothing is as good as a healthy natural tooth. But when a tooth becomes infected, the patient must decide between a root canal procedure or an extraction. Given the choice, I believe that a dental implant offers a much healthier alternative to a root canal-treated tooth for the simple reason that a root canal-treated tooth is a dead and chronically infected body part, while a dental implant is usually remains sterile, and it is composed of relatively biocompatible material.
Nothing is 100 percent safe. Driving a car or even walking down the street has risk. The relative risk of a dental implant is very low, and its benefit compared to a root canal-treated tooth very high.
About the author: Dr. Kulacz had extensive training in implant dentistry through the Brookdale Hospital implant training mini residency and placed many implants during the first half of his private practice career. The second half of his career was entirely devoted to the surgical treatment of root canal extractions and cavitations. Dr. Kulacz continues to do research on the oral/systemic connection. His website is Coletrex.com. His latest book, The Toxic Tooth: How a Root Canal Could Be Making You Sick, co-authored with Thomas E. Levy, MD is available through MedFox publishing at ToxicTooth.com.
References: *Presence of Bactria in Dentinal Tubules Journal of Applied Oral Science vol.16no.3 Bauru May/June 2008 José Ricardo KinaI; Juliana KinaII; Eunice Fumico Umeda KinaII; Mônica KinaII; Ana Maria Pires SoubhiaIII