If You’re Looking for Alternatives to Root Canal, Start Here
Has your dentist told you that you need a root canal? Before deciding what’s right for you, it’s important to know that you do have choices. Alternatives to root canal do exist, and they may be a better fit for you. Part of achieving optimal health is being proactive in your own health plan, and to do so requires knowledge of all your options.
In this article:
- What is a root canal?
- What does root canal therapy treat?
- What are the potential downsides of a root canal?
- What are the alternatives to root canal?
- What should I do if I’ve already had a root canal?
What is a root canal?
A root canal is better termed a root filling. In the center of the tooth there is a space in your tooth where the dental pulp (the soft tissue inside) exists. It contains blood vessels and nerves. When that pulp dies from a deep cavity or trauma to the tooth, the pulp is removed and the root is filled with a rubber-like material. What we colloquially refer to as a “root canal” is simply root canal therapy, a type of endodontic treatment.
During the root canal procedure, the endodontist (root canal specialist) will use very small files to remove the pulp, clean the now-empty canal area with a disinfectant-like bleach, and seal the space with a rubber-like filling. The tooth is now weak and vulnerable. In order to strengthen the tooth, a crown (artificial tooth covering) is made to go over the tooth. This leaves a dead tooth in the jawbone, covered with a crown. The whole process typically happens over two or more hour-long visits.
What does root canal therapy treat?
Dentists may recommend a root canal for inflammation or infection in the nerve area, the innermost layer of the tooth, which can occur when severe tooth decay has reached the pulp or an oral injury has exposed the pulp. Untreated inflammation can lead to the tooth dying and a cyst or abscess forming at the side or end of the root. This abcess is a pus-filled pocket that develops due to infection.
The idea behind root canal treatment is to “save” the tooth from having to be extracted, but this procedure can set you up for more problems than it solves.
What are the potential downsides of a root canal?
While a root canal may relieve you of pain and infection, there are several downsides to consider.
- Root canals can fail. Unfortunately, it is not possible to fully remove all of the nerve tissue from the canal. There is an average of three miles of microscopic tubules (canals) within a single tooth, and we do not have the capacity to fully clean all the pathways, even in the most well-done root canal procedure. Remnant bacteria can live in the tubules’ anaerobic environment and cause further inflammation and infection as your immune system continues to fight it off. I lived this situation, and ultimately had my root canal teeth pulled.
- The crown you receive at the end of the procedure is will need maintenance. The average crown lasts about 10 years. And if there is a metal core under that crown, it continually attracts bacteria to the tooth during those years.
- If there is an infection present (rather than a tooth injury), antibiotics may be prescribed post-treatment to reduce remnant bacteria and inflammation, but there is little evidence that this is effective. It’s possible that this is due to the lack of blood supply within the tooth, making it difficult for the antibiotics to reach the place where the bacteria is still located. Antibiotics affect gut flora by wiping out all bacteria, rather than targeting bad bacteria only, and thus should only be taken (and balanced with probiotics) when absolutely necessary.
- Root canals may exacerbate symptoms of chronic and degenerative diseases, according to Dr. George Meinig, one of the founders of the American Association of Endodontists and author of Root Canal Cover-Up .
What are the alternatives to root canal?
Rather than keep a dead tooth in the mouth, even if it still functions, many people opt for extraction to get rid of it completely. There are several possibilities for closing the gap, including:
- Partial dentures which are removable and can replace one or more teeth
- A bridge, which consists of a false tooth connected on both sides by crowns to keep it in place
- A dental implant made of strong, biocompatible materials like zirconia affixed to the jawbone. Well-cared-for implants can cost less over a lifetime as there is not a need for further treatment, whereas a root canal will most likely lead to the need for more treatment in the future.
Treatments to Buy Time
A dentist can inject ozone gas near the end of the root of the tooth to reduce bacteria in the area. This procedure won’t eliminate all the bacteria, and may have to be repeated often, but it may help reduce inflammation for a period of time.
If the tooth is already dead, the root canal area can be filled with calcium hydroxide as a temporary filling material, which will also keep the bacteria at bay for a period of time. Neither treatment is permanent, but may buy you some time.
What should I do if I’ve already had a root canal treatment?
Everybody’s situation is different, so make sure to consult with your biological dentist on the best next steps for your body (in my case when my root canal teeth failed, I ended up having them pulled). There are, however, some guidelines to follow to avoid any future issues:
Follow an anti-inflammatory diet.
A whole-foods diet with a variety of plants is a great way to lower inflammation. Remove processed foods and reduce sugar intake as much as possible, and for those who are particularly sensitive, also remove gluten, dairy, and nightshades like tomatoes, peppers, goji berries, potatoes, paprika, and eggplant for a period of time to see if symptoms subside.
Eat antimicrobial foods.
Although we can’t fully eliminate all the bacteria that remains in the root canal, it doesn’t hurt to incorporate more foods in your diet that have antimicrobial and antibacterial properties, such as clove, garlic, orange, coconut oil, and basil.
Oil pull with coconut oil.
As coconut oil is antimicrobial, it helps attract and pull bacteria out of the mouth (more on how oil pulling works here). Swish up to 1 tablespoon of the oil in your mouth and through your teeth for at least five minutes each morning (and spit in the trash, as coconut oil becomes solid at room temperature and can clog your pipes).
Keep stress levels low.
Chronically high cortisol can cause a number of health issues, namely chronic inflammation. Ensure you have restful sleep each night, enjoy movement throughout the day, and practice self-care like meditation and other calming activities to help keep stress levels down.
Manage gut health.
70% of the immune system is located in the gut, thus poor gut health can negatively affect immune response (among many other body systems). Incorporate gut-friendly probiotic foods into your daily diet (such as sauerkraut, kimchi, kefir, and kombucha) and get adequate hydration for proper production of stomach acid, which helps digestion.
How you deal with an affected tooth is ultimately your decision, but know that there are alternatives to root canal therapy. If your dentist has recommended this procedure, you may want to consult with a holistic health practitioner as well to get a better handle on all the options available and make an informed decision. Use our free Holistic Dentist Finder to get in touch with a biological dentist in your area.
Robyn Openshaw, MSW, is the bestselling author of The Green Smoothies Diet, 12 Steps to Whole Foods, and 2017’s #1 Amazon Bestseller and USA Today Bestseller, Vibe.
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