A lot of my patients have seen The Root Cause movie on Netflix about the perils of root canals. Does the movie have it right when it comes to root canals being bad for you and causing diseases like cancer, arthritis, heart disease and strokes? My answer is ‘yes’ and ‘no.’ Let me explain:
While there is some truth to what the movie is saying there is a lot of misinformation as well. So I will tackle the ‘no’ side first, as frankly, it is easier. First of all, the movie clearly states and is based on the simple premise that ‘all root canals are bad and are making you sick.’
Root Canals and Cancer
The claim put forward is that 97% of the people that have cancer also have root canals. While I respect putting out such a bold statement and the right of doctors to state their experience, I would also ask that they back it up with evidence-based research, or at least their own case studies or small pilot studies. Without research or proof, opinions are just that, opinions.
What about the millions of people who don’t have root canals and still have cancer or the people who have root canals that don’t have cancer. There are plenty of patients in my practice that have root canals and don’t have cancer. There are also plenty of patients in my practice that have cancer and don’t have any root canals. Is this proof that root canals don’t cause cancer? I would not be so bold as to make this claim.
What I do know about cancer is that it is a multifactorial disease. There is literally a mountain of evidence that proves there are many other causes to cancer including microbes, infections, viruses, environmental factors and toxicity, genetics, smoking, obesity, lack of exercise, poor diet, immune issues, and systemic inflammation. And this list is not exhaustive. So why do the authors of this movie say that root canals, and root canals alone, are the cause of cancer? They may really believe it, or they may say it for effect. I don’t really know. What I do know is that it’s just not credible or true. To generalize with a disease like cancer is both irresponsible and lazy in my opinion.
“All Root Canals Are Infected”
Another claim made by the movie is that ‘virtually all root canals are infected.’ As evidence of this, the authors state that there are miles of microtubules and accessory canals in the body of the tooth that harbor bacteria and that these bacteria are released and found in other parts of the body. Thus is born the ‘sick tooth syndrome’ and the ‘focal infection theory’, where anaerobic bacteria associated with root canals release toxins that cause diseases in other parts of the body.
Don’t get me wrong. It is true that bacteria are left behind after traditional root canals are done. Please see my earlier post on the subject: Advanced Laser Endodontic Therapy. However, that doesn’t mean that all root canal teeth are infected or that you should pull them.
The Truth About Root Canal Infections
Here’s the bottom line about root canals that I have come to after 35 years as a practicing dentist and 25 years as a holistic dentist:
- Root canal teeth no longer have a blood supply and so immune cells can’t reach the bacteria that remain in the tooth even after root canal therapy
- There is research that shows that up to 40% of previously treated root canals have some form of problem or infection present
- What to do with these teeth is an individual decision based on the amount of infection present, the health of the patient, especially the immune system, and the difficulty of the treatment involved.
- Sometimes the only way to see which root canals are infected is the take a 3D image called a cone beam.
The normal x-rays taken in dental offices often don’t uncover infections around the roots of old root canal teeth. You need the better image provided by a 3D image similar to a mini Cat Scan. Can you see how this controversy might have come to pass? If your dentist can’t see the problem on the x-rays he/she has, there is no way to offer a solution.
What to do about old root canals, especially those that are infected, is a decision that should be made by each person after consulting with your dentist, other health care providers and loved ones. It also depends on how much you want to keep your teeth. As you can tell from the above, what to do about root canals is not a simple topic or easy decision to make. In all cases, proper history and records need to be collected and a thorough evaluation done before a final decision is made.
Technological Advances in Root Canal Therapy
The last thing I will say about this movie is that it is based on old beliefs and old technology. The movie cites research and work that was done quite some time ago, most of it before the turn of the century. George Meinig’s heyday was during the 1990’s and Westin Price’s research was done 100 years ago.
There have been quite a few advances made since then in technique as well as technology, especially in the last 10 years. I previously wrote an article highlighting the research done by Westin Price and George Meinig questioning the wisdom of doing root canals. In this article, I also discuss the improvements that have been made in root canal therapy since their day. You can read the article here: The Root Canal Cover-Up: Did George Meinig Have it Right?
So Where Does The Root Cause Have It Right?
This is a fair question. The ‘Root Cause’ does have some good things to say in questioning that all root canals are fine and there are no problems with them whatsoever. However, this will take more time to discuss and break down for you than I have time or space for here. Watch for my next post on what to do about root canal infections and how the movie the ‘Root Cause’ has it right.
Carey O’Rielly DDS has been a practicing dentist for 33 years. He went to USC Dental School and Duke University for his undergraduate degree. He grew up in Laguna Beach and now lives in La Costa with his wife Victoria, who runs his office.
He began his career by owning and operating a network of six offices in the San Francisco Bay Area. Presently he owns a private holistic practice in North County San Diego’s Encinitas.
Dr. O started looking for solutions to his health challenges that resulted from the stress and environmental toxicity that built up over a ten year period running his dental network. He has dedicated himself to learning about oral systemic problems and how dentistry can affect your health. He has applied what he has learned over the last twenty years to ensure he, his staff and his patients are protected from the chemicals and toxic materials found in most dental offices. He has produced an environmentally friendly office that is also peaceful and calm.
He is an expert on dental materials having looked at hundreds of biocompatibility lab tests over the years. He has identified the most bio-friendly materials to use in his practice and which dental materials can be used to replace metal fillings and crowns, including BPA free and fluoride free ‘white’ fillings. He also uses metal-free Zirconia or ceramic implants and PRF (platelet-rich fibrin) grafting materials which come from the patient’s own blood.
Dr. O’Rielly teaches C.E. courses on the systemic effects of gum disease. He is an expert in using phase contrast microscopy for analyzing dental infections, where he shows patients what kind of microbes, i.e. bacteria, amoeba, and yeasts like candida are populating the mouth and affecting the body as a whole.
He has an educational blog and is writing a book on dental health called ‘Hidden Dental Infections: Healing Root Canals and Infected Teeth with the Erbium Laser’ where he discusses dental nutrition, toxic dental materials and the effects of old root canals on inflammation and overall health.