Most people who've had a root canal say they don't regret it, even though many still have pain and discomfort in the affected tooth, a new Swedish study finds.
Root canals are commonly done when the soft tissue (pulp) inside the tooth is inflamed or infected. The soft parts are removed and replaced with a rubber-like material and a kind of cement.
"The studies show that the patients' quality of life benefited from root canal treatment," said study author Emma Wigsten, a dentist. "On the other hand, it's unclear whether the treatment is cost-effective compared with tooth removal, especially where molars are concerned."
For her University of Gothenburg Ph.D. thesis, Wigsten analyzed data from 243 patients who had root canals at 20 public dental clinics in Sweden and were then followed for one to three years.
Most of the root canals were prompted by toothaches in teeth with cavities and large fillings.
Half of the patients had mild pain or discomfort in the affected tooth during the follow-up period, but 87% said they were satisfied with the procedure and did not regret their decision to have a root canal instead of getting the tooth pulled.
Wigsten also analyzed data from 85 patients who had either root canal or a tooth removed at six public clinics. She found that root canal patients had improved health-related quality of life, while those who had a tooth pulled did not.
While overall results were good after root canal, only slightly more than half of root canals in molars were successful, and many molars had to be removed.
"It seems harder to get a good result in treating the molars, despite time and resources invested," Wigsten said in a university news release. "Root canal treatment is complicated: You're working inside the tooth where you can't see anything, and the further back you go in the mouth, the more difficult it becomes."
Because most root canals are done by general dentists, Wigsten said it may be important to study whether specialists should do more root canals of molars.
The American Association of Endodontists has more on root canals.
SOURCE: University of Gothenburg, news release, Oct. 28, 2021