Q: I have been told I need a root canal. My brother had one and it only lasted 3 years before he had it yanked and an implant put in. What if I just leave it?
A: You bring up several issues, and I may not have enough information for your specific question. Firstly, any tooth is a living part of your body. The interior of your tooth contains a nerve, a vein, pulp - and all of this is susceptible to infection. There are some who don’t believe in root canals (more holistic types who believe the body will heal itself), but that success record is not high. Our mouth is not only the gateway to the rest of your body, but it is also the most unsanitary! Any infection can easily spread quickly which is why we treat any diseased tooth with respect.
The root canal process itself has been the most reliable method of saving a tooth. The diseased material is carefully removed from each canal (portion of root), leaving a hollow shell of a tooth. This cavity must now be filled with materials your body will tolerate to provide some strength. After all, it is now a ‘dead’ tooth as opposed to a live tooth.
As tooth roots don’t necessarily follow strict shape models, occasionally your dentist cannot extract all of the diseased material in a twisted root and must refer you to an endodontist - a root canal specialist. This procedure may be lengthy, and therefore expensive. All bacteria must be removed before this root has any hope of healing properly to provide you with a base for your crown. Without the crown, this brittle tooth with the hole in the top that allowed access will have limited longevity. If anything goes wrong along the way, it may well erupt again which is what it sounds like happened with your brother.
So – to recap – you have a diseased tooth. You drill it, and remove all the bad material. Your dentist crowns it – and you all cross your fingers. The good thing is that modern day root canals are virtually painless with most practitioners. Or, you remove the infected tooth completely, and replace it with a dental implant. The big advantage with the implant is you now have a stand alone restoration that will conceivably last you for the rest of your life!