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How can root canals be prevented?

In some cases, the need for root canal can be prevented by good home care, frequent brushing and flossing of your teeth and regular trips to the dentist (at least twice a year). Having cavities filled before they get too deep and damaged teeth repaired as soon as possible is important to prevent the need for root canal. In some cases, though, a root canal cannot be prevented. Teeth damaged from trauma, deep decay or fillings or advanced gum disease call all lead to an infected tooth that requires root canal.
Protect the pulp (or "nerve") inside your tooth from anything that might bother it and you will never need a root canal (RCT). Easier said than done! You will need to avoid tooth decay, and in so doing you will also avoid the restorative treatments that are done to clean out the decay. Fillings, even when done well, can push a weak pulp over the edge and then you need RCT if you want to keep the tooth. Don't get me wrong -- you need to do the fillings and hope for the best, but sometimes the pulp is in such bad shape from the pre-existing cavity that the need for RCT follows closely on completion of the filling. You also need to avoid any trauma, whether self-inflicted (as in clenching or grinding your teeth) or caused by external events such as sports accidents, etc. You should also choose your parents carefully ;) because many of the dental problems that lead one to need a root canal tend to run in families. Regular professional check-ups, timely preventive care (cleanings), and wearing sports or nightguard protective appliances will reduce the risk that you may need a root canal. These preventive options will also save you money and may enable you to save teeth that would otherwise be lost in spite of good treatment -- so invest in prevention and hope for the best. Good luck!
Romesh Nalliah
Dentist
Root canal treatment can be prevented by protecting the health of the tooth nerve. The nerve can be damaged from deep cavities and trauma. Having six-monthly checkups with a dentist, fixing any cavities before they get deep, maintaining excellent home care to prevent cavities between visits and protecting teeth during contact sport will all help to prevent the need for a root canal.
Kimberly Harms
Dentist
The best way to prevent a root canal is to prevent decay or stress on the tooth. Twice daily brushing with a fluoridated toothpaste and flossing daily are your best preventive strategies. Also, tooth grinding and clenching can cause nerve damage and the eventual need for root canal therapy.  
The best way to prevent the need for a root canal is preventive dental care. Cavities that are treated early (when they are small) rarely lead to root canals. It is also important to wear a nightguard if you grind your teeth to prevent the need for a root canal due to a fractured tooth.

A root canal is the treatment for an infected (abscessed) tooth or a tooth that has broken into the inside part of the tooth (the pulp). A root canal can be prevented by using good oral hygiene (brushing and flossing) and regular dental visits. If a dentist detects a cavity, it should be fixed with a filling as soon as possible. A cavity will become bigger over time and can lead to an abscessed tooth which is treated with a root canal. A broken tooth can be prevented by wearing an athletic mouthguard when playing contact sports.

Root canals are usually caused either by tooth decay that enters the pulp of the tooth or by trauma to the tooth.

Brushing and flossing after meals and seeing the dentist every six months is a good routine to follow to prevent having a root canal.

Your dentist or dental hygienist will clean your teeth to removal plaque and tartar (Bacteria that gets hard on your teeth). Plaque and tartar produce acids that eat away at the tooth, which can cause root canal.

A clinical examination and routine x-rays will determine if decay is present. Catching decay early may stop the progression towards the nerve of the tooth and having a root canal.

If you participate in sports that may injure your teeth, then a sports guard made by the dentist can absorb the shock from trauma and prevent root canal or worst loss of teeth.
"Doctor it hurts when I touch here." My glib reply of course is "well then don't touch there!" Since the majority of root canals stem from traumatic insult to the tooth the best way to prevent the need for root canal treatment is to avoid traumatizing the tooth in the first place. With the exception of accidental trauma, most damage to the pulp of the tooth is avoidable by good oral hygiene and regular check ups. If you prevent the decay and gum disease from getting started and an wear athletic mouth guard when indicated then the chances of needing a root canal will be small indeed. 

The best way to prevent getting root canals is by taking the preventative measures to protect your tooth from trauma, cavities, and gum disease. Having a good oral hygiene regimen and protective oral appliances for sports and bruxism (clenching and grinding at night) can greatly reduce your chances of needing a root canal.  

Root canals are required when the nerve of the tooth becomes irreversibly damaged. Nerve damage is caused by trauma. Trauma to the nerve can happen in several ways. The most common cause is decay which has been left untreated for too long. A simple cavity that is not uncomfortable is easy for some people to put off. Waiting too long a time enables the decay to grow and progress into the nerve of the tooth. Tooth nerves can also be damaged by clenching and grinding the teeth. Clenchers and grinders destroy their teeth by the forces that they place on teeth which can result in nerve inflammation. Some people grind and clench so hard they can "kill" a perfectly healthy tooth. Facial trauma is another way tooth nerves are damaged. Sporting injuries, car accidents, fighting, etc. can all lead to tooth nerve damage that may require a root canal. The answer to how root canals be prevented is simple -- take care of your teeth with good brushing, flossing, a healthy diet, and regular dental care. If you participate in contact sports, wear a good mouth guard.
Root canals are generally caused by one of two things -- trauma to the tooth (like from playing sports, an accident, etc.), or a cavity/decay that has been ignored. So prevention becomes obvious -- you always can't "prevent" accidents, but you can certainly prevent cavities by brushing and flossing. This will help prevent root canals.
Root canals are necessary to eliminate the pain caused by an infected nerve in the center of the tooth. This can occur through decay (cavity) or fracture of the tooth.

Brushing and flossing (to remove the bacteria and food that cause decay), avoiding sugary foods and drinks, and having one's teeth checked on a regular basis (so that decay can be diagnosed and treated when small, before it reaches the nerve) are the main ways to avoid the need for a root canal.

Also avoid chewing on ice or hard candies. When the ice breaks, the teeth come together with sufficient force to split the tooth. In the best case, only the nerve is involved and a root canal and a crown can restore the tooth to proper form and function. Worst case -- the tooth splits through the roots and cannot be saved.
Abraham Speiser
Dentist
Sometimes root canal treatment (RCT) can be prevented and sometimes it cannot. In all cases, infection and/or tooth "nerve" (dental pulp) inflammation, called pulpitis, are the considerations. Pulpitis can be caused by tooth decay, trauma or diseases of the tooth's pulp. Treatment of tooth decay before it reaches the tooth’s pulp usually prevents the need for RCT. Some typical trauma events are sports injuries, falls and spontaneous tooth fractures, usually while chewing. Diseases of the pulp include certain dental problems (e.g. resorption) and certain medical causes (e.g. blockage of the pulp's microscopic blood vessels due to sickle cell anemia or diabetes.)

Your dentist diagnoses pulpitis by (i) X-rays, (ii) symptoms, and (iii) pulp testing (electrical, cold, hot, other) as either reversible or irreversible.

If your problem is reversible pulpitis, it can be treated. If treatment heals the tooth, it may prevent the need for root canal. This includes (i) treatment for tooth decay like a filling or, for deep tooth decay, medicating the deep portion near the pulp to initiate healing; (ii) treatment for sports injuries like bite adjustments and splinting, and (iii) treatment for fractured teeth like restorations or crowns (caps.) There are numerous other possible treatments for reversible pulpitis.  
If your problem is irreversible pulpitis, root canal treatment is a good option. It can eliminate the pain and/or infection and extend the useful life of the tooth. Exposure of the pulp due to tooth decay or trauma usually results in irreversible pulpitis. Diseases of the pulp and medical causes of pulpitis, as described above, are almost always irreversible.
Ask your dentist for treatment alternatives. Many general dentists do RCT and many refer difficult cases to specialists known as endodontists. "Endo" is dentist speak for root canal treatment.
Most root canal treatments can be prevented. That is good news.

Traumatic accidents are sometimes unpreventable and can cause teeth to need root canal treatment.

By visiting a dentist often enough (for most people 6 months-1 year) they can largely be prevented.

Some people are at higher risk for cavities, which is the most common cause of problems with the root canal system. By preventing cavities we can prevent most root canal treatments. The level of acid (pH) in the mouth is a critical, if not the most critical factor. Brushing, flossing, professional cleanings, bicarbonate rinses, xylitol products, fluorides, calcium, phosphates all help create a favorable oral environment for cavity prevention.

Diet is also a factor. What we snack on and how often we snack contributes to cavities. Better snacks are nuts, cheeses, fruits, vegetables, sunflower seeds. Foods or drinks high in acid, sucrose and fructose are best at contributing to cavities. We should be careful with soda, Gatorade, energy drinks. It is the amount of time the acid and sugars are in contact with the teeth that is critical.

Genetics also play a role. Those of us that have or have had lots of cavities should use toothpastes, rinses, and xylitol products that neutralize acid and rid the mouth of acid producing bacteria. Thank you.

The best way to prevent a root canal is to prevent the cavity or trauma that may lead to a root canal in the first place. A root canal is needed when the pulp, or nerve, tissue inside the tooth begins to die. This can be caused from a cavity getting deep enough to infect the pulp, trauma to the tooth, or a fracture in the tooth. By using good oral hygiene techniques (brushing and flossing) and visiting your dentist regularly (every 6 months is recommended) cavities can be detected and filled before they become too big and small fractures can usually be identified and treated as well.

Dante A. Gonzales, DMD
Orthodontics & Dentofacial Orthopedics
Root canals are usually only needed when there is decay or a crack into the pulp chamber of the tooth. Good oral hygiene, seeing your dentist regularly, and protecting the teeth from trauma will help prevent the need for a root canal. Brushing and flossing everyday should help prevent cavities, however, cavities can still occur and it is important to see your dentist regularly in order for the cavity to be caught at an early stage. If a cavity is allowed to progress it will eventually invade the pulp and a root canal will be needed.

It is also important to guard against any trauma that could crack the tooth. If you clench or grind your teeth, a dentist can make a special "nightguard" to help prevent trauma to the teeth while clenching or grinding. In addition, if you play contact sports, a mouthguard will help prevent trauma to the teeth.
The best prevention for root canals is for patients to come twice a year for their exams, x-rays and cleanings. I can detect active dental disease -- cavities, gum disease or other problems when they are in a more manageable form. The major event leading to a patient requiring a root canal is when a cavity becomes quite large and the bacteria within the cavity invades the dental pulp and nerve.
Ask your dentist about treating the cavity with an antibacterial agent before sealing the tooth with the restoration. There are several antibacterial agents available for this purpose. The agents are effective to eradicate many of the germs that live on the tooth where the cavity was active. Having these germs removed reduces the bacterial load [bioburden] and gives Mother Nature an improved opportunity for the tooth to heal normally.

When your dentist has removed the cavity and completed the restoration the bite is always checked by biting on paper that marks where the teeth touch -- usually blue or red. Take your time during this bite check and close in several positions to confirm that the new filling does not hit too hard or have too much pressure on it. This pressure can cause sensitivity and make it difficult for the tooth to heal correctly.

This is a great question. Root canals may be required for a variety of reasons: 

  • One is due to large cavities. This is preventable by treating cavities before they hurt. If you maintain a 6 month recall and your dentist practices minimally invasive dentistry at the earliest signs of necessity than there should be no need for root canals.
  • Another reason is old large fillings that leak or breakdown. Again, treat before discomfort and replace any large fillings that are leaking or breaking down and you should be able to prevent root canals as well.
  • Finally, trauma often leads to root canals, this can sometimes be prevented by wearing a sport guards if you play sports and a night guard at night to protect your teeth from clenching, grinding, and shifting.

All in all, follow your dentist’s recommendations, maintain a consistent 6 month recall, and treat things at the earliest signs before pain or discomfort arises. 

The best way to prevent root canals and any other dental problems is to visit your dentist on a regular basis. If cavities are treated early there is less tooth destruction and less trauma to the pulp (or nerve tissue) inside the tooth. If you have a habit of grinding or clenching your teeth, a night guard will help prevent damaging your teeth. Also, wear a good fitting mouthguard if you play sports. I can't tell you how many times over the years that I have had to treat damaged teeth from sports like racquetball, basketball, soccer, etc. It's rarely hockey or football since the players are already wearing mouthguards and face masks.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.