Among the many myths that exist regarding root canal treatment, the belief that root canals can cause systemic illness is easily the most antiquated and was debunked decades ago. To understand the origin of this myth, a brief history lesson is in order.
In the early 1900s, a concept known as “focal infection theory” had enormous influence on the practices of medicine and dentistry. This concept contends that many, if not all, systemic illnesses are the result of small, localized “foci” of bacterial infection. As it happens, teeth are natural harbors for bacterial infection, thus it was believed that infected teeth could cause a wide array of diseases and conditions. What’s more, the dental community at that time was of the belief that even teeth that been treated with root canals were suspect—that is, they had bacteria left behind that could continue to cause problems. Since a tooth that had been treated with root canal therapy was one that had obviously been infected at some point, many dentists extracted these teeth carte blanche, regardless of whether the tooth was causing problems or not.
Today, it is well understood that focal infection theory is incongruent with the true nature of pathology and the effects of bacterial infection.
In fact, root canal treatment cures and prevents the very problem that adherents of focal infection theory were so concerned about. It is true that infections in the body can migrate and cause significant issues elsewhere. For example, an abscessed tooth that is left untreated can lead to a condition called “cellulitis,” in which the bacteria escapes from the confines of the tooth and jaw and affects interstitial spaces and under the skin. Due to the swelling that is often present, cellulitis is often times a medical emergency.
Further, if bacteria enter the bloodstream and travels to the heart, they can colonize certain cardiovascular structures and create life-threatening problems, such as endocarditis. Because an abscess is a source of bacteria that could do exactly that, it’s plain to see that root canals not only do not cause heart problems, they actually help prevent them!
Bacterial infections, regardless of where they are in the body or how small they are, have the potential to grow and affect many parts of the body. Root canal treatment is performed exclusively to eradicate bacterial infection, thus preventing that very occurrence. Do not believe the myth that root canals can cause heart issues or other illnesses. On the contrary: they may be the very thing that saves you from such problems.