What are the risks of a root canal treatment?

The chief risk of root canal is that it can fail. When root canal treatments fail, sometimes the problem is easily detectable on x-ray -- a missed canal, a perforated root, or inability to clean all the canals all the way to the tip of the root. Sometimes root canals fail for no apparent reason -- that is, no apparent reason until the tooth is extracted and a fracture is found on the root that may not have been seen on x-ray.

Extra care before, during and after root canal treatment can minimize the chance of a failed root canal. However, no procedure or treatment works 100% of the time -- regardless of the degree of care.

Some people claim that retaining root canal-treated teeth can cause illness and infection in remote parts of the body. With the exception of the examples given by the other doctor answering this question (chiefly artificial heart valves and artificial prosthetic joints), this claim (known as the focal infection theory) has been discarded (very long ago, in fact) and should not be a concern.
Since it is virtually impossible to totally sterilize the complex root system of a tooth there will always be vital pathogens left in the root. From the time a person has a root canal the immune system will be occupied taking care of the situation. In a healthy person the root canal may be kept in check and be considered 'successful'. The thought of the tooth being a source of any number of illnesses seems logical. Unfortunately proving this seems near impossible. The problem should certainly be considered if you are considering this treatment.

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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.