The History of Root Canals

Dentist with patient

Dentist with patientRoot canals (or more technically known as endodontic therapy) is a procedure in which the infected innards of a tooth are removed and replaced with synthetic material that protects against further infection. Today, this procedure is routine and results in mild discomfort. The discomfort is nothing compared to allowing an infected tooth to stay, though. A root canal is made infinitely better by anesthesia. However, what about before the invention of anesthesia? Did they even undertake such a nightmare without it?

The answer is, horrifyingly, yes. The earliest evidence found of a root canal being performed is in a skull found in the desert in Israel, dating back to the second or third century B.C. This skull had a bronze wire embedded in the root of a tooth exactly how a modern dentist would have done it. Dental techniques may have not changed over the years, but dental technology definitely has.

Something else that has changed is our understanding of things. For example, evidence suggests that ancient dentists kept on performing root canals from B.C. to now. However, the material used to fill the root varied, and included gold and asbestos. Yes, asbestos inside your tooth.

It’s not unreasonable to believe, though, that most people just elected to have the tooth pulled rather than endure the pain of a root canal with no numbing agent (though even that would have been no walk in the park either). The rate of root canals jumped dramatically in the twentieth century, when anesthesia was invented and the procedure steered away from inducing life-altering pain.

That is why there has never been a better time to get dental work done, including a root canal.