People worry about the presence of infection within their body and so they should. Root canal treated teeth are not dead teeth. The tooth consists of three major structures: firstly, the hard tissue, the enamel of the teeth – that’s the bit you see at the top and the bit that forms the root. Inside we have the pulp; that’s the problem area, that’s where the nerves lie, that’s the bit that does the blood supply and that’s where infection sets in causing you to need root canal treatment. On the other side of the root is an organ called periodontal membrane or periodontal ligament. If the periodontal membrane becomes infected and gets lost due to periodontal disease, or through infection from within the tooth, then the tooth will be shed and your body will not tolerate infection.
So root canal treatment is aimed at maintaining the health of the periodontal ligament or membrane. How we do this is, we remove the infected dead tissue from inside the tooth. Also, the dead tissue is actually not the cause of the problem. Sterile dead nerve tissue does not cause infection. Bacteria causes infection. So if we get in to do a root canal treatment, we take away all that nerve tissue, all the old blood vessels, broken nerve tissue and the infection, sterilize that part of the inside of the tooth and seal it so bacteria can’t penetrate it again. The periodontal membrane remains intact. It stays alive, your tooth is retained and your body does not recognize any problem with it.
Where the body does recognize a problem is if it is inadequately cleaned out. If the bacteria persists within the system, then they will cause a localised inflammatory response and that’s what we call an abscess or a chronic periapical area. The body wants to get in and kill that infection but it can’t. The white blood cells cannot penetrate so they stay around the tooth. You see bone loss on X ray around that tooth, typically at the end of the root and that’s caused by leakage of toxins from within the tooth into the area. They trigger an immune response which your body deals with.
Several people have claimed that dead teeth can give rise to various bacteria. There is no scientifically evolved evidence to support that. Secondly, bacteria leak into our bodies all day, every day. The most common route for bacteria to enter our bodies is through our gums. As we floss our teeth, brush our teeth and even as we chew, bacteria are pushing in through the tiny crevices between the gum and the root. And when they get pushed in there, some of them enter our blood stream. After a meal or after brushing, studies have shown the level of bacteria to be elevated in the blood stream. But the blood stream is a hostile environment for bugs. Bugs don’t last, so when they enter the blood stream, they are mumped up by white blood cells. Even if the root canal treatment is inadequately done, there’s a finite resource of bacteria within the tooth.