Many people fear hearing the phrase “root canal treatment” as much as the procedure itself. Yet root canal treatments solve serious problems, with less pain and complication than the alternative treatment – tooth extraction. So, why the disconnect?

In centuries past, people suffered tremendously from toothaches. Over time researchers learned that the most serious pain and complications started when there was an infection of the tooth’s pulp. The pulp is inside the tooth where the nerves and blood vessels intermingle with connective tissue that descends to the root. Cases of minor decay and infection could be relieved by drilling the tooth and filling the cavity. But when the infection seriously involved the tooth pulp, the traditional solution was to extract the tooth and remove all the infected pulp and any diseased tissues.

In the late 1800s, dental researchers began developing techniques to remove the pulp while saving the tooth. Initially some doctors were concerned that root canal treatments too often would leave bacteria to thrive inside the tooth. As modern medicine perfected antiseptics and antibiotics, however, it became easier and safer to perform a root canal treatment than a total tooth extraction. Today, the dentist treats a tooth by first opening into the diseased area, cleaning out the diseased pulp, and killing all the bacteria inside the tooth. Then the dentist fills the cleaned area with inert material so bacteria cannot regrow.

Today, there’s no need to feel pain. A local anesthetic numbs the tooth and surrounding area. And if you need help relaxing, the dentist offers sedation options. Tooth extraction is more invasive and creates new problems to solve. A lost tooth must be replaced by an implant or denture, there are effects on other tissues and teeth, and the whole process is more costly and time consuming.

Unless extraction is the only feasible option, the root canal treatment is the modern, safe, less painful and less costly alternative.