Debating health topics—particularly online—can cause quite a range of emotions…from outright disgust to glee to disbelief.
If you spend any time on social media or the internet, you’ll see articles that spout what the author often believes to be the truth. Like, the absolute, no-one-can-convince-them-of-otherwise truth. From vaccines to diets to every day procedures like root canals, there is normally an opinion online that will back up your preconceived notions (or fly in the face of them).
The $10,000 question is: how can you weed out what is true and what is simply propaganda? This problem is so vital these days that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration recently warned “consumers to avoid 65 bogus products hawked on the internet with false claims that they can cure, treat, diagnose or prevent cancer … [saying] these products, mostly sold on websites and social media sites, can be harmful, waste money and result in people not getting approved, effective treatments.”
Before putting too much stock into any article (even this one), it’s important to examine who wrote it. Check them out, and look for where he or she got the information. Next, if the article highlights or touts research, was the study conducted properly with sound methodologies?
One issue that is taking the dental world by storm today is the theory that root canals are dangerous procedures that could cause severe and chronic health issues. Below, we’ll break down the debate and detail the issues surrounding this dental debate.
What is the issue with root canals?
Since the 1920s, a theory has existed that root canals are a major cause of cancer and other harmful diseases. And antiquated though this idea might seem, the assertion has now made its way through the internet on blogs and natural health websites.
Before diving into the validity issues around this theory, it’s important to discuss what a root canal is and why they’re needed at all.
The American Association of Endodontists describe a root canal as a treatment that is designed to eliminate bacteria from the infected tooth’s root canal, preventing reinfection of the tooth and therefore saving the natural tooth. It’s estimated more than 15 million root canals are performed every year—that means more than 41,000 are performed daily!
Root canals are also needed in the case of a cracked tooth (from injury or genetics), a deep cavity, or when there are issues from a previous filling. Patients generally need a root canal when they notice their teeth are sensitive, particularly to hot and cold sensations. Other symptoms can include:
- Severe pain while chewing
- Chipped or cracked teeth
- Deep decay
- Or swollen gums
If you are suffering from any of these symptoms, it is important to visit your dentist before the tooth gets worse and causes more damage to the mouth.
What is the background on this theory?
Weston Price, a dentist in the early 20th century, is credited with coming up with this theory almost a hundred years ago. He believed that dead teeth that have undergone root canal therapy still harbor incredibly harmful toxins. According to Price, these toxins act as breeding ground for cancer, arthritis, heart disease, and other conditions. He believed that even after a root canal the harmful bacteria that was supposed to be removed from the tooth could remain. The remaining bacteria could lead to secondary infections, even when antibiotics are prescribed.
Price’s researched concluded that these bacteria could lead to diseases like atherosclerosis, diabetes and even Alzheimer’s disease. However, he conducted much of his research on rabbits using extracted teeth from people with various health problems. His research found that rabbits would develop the condition that the person with the tooth had.
Has this theory been disproven?
Modern dentists and researchers have raised major concerns with Price’s findings due to flawed and poorly-designed tests. Overall, critics have deemed his research highly unreliable due to several issues:
- First, the conditions for Price’s experiment were poorly controlled.
- Next, his tests were not performed in a sterile environment.
- And finally, other researchers haven’t been able to duplicate his results.
While those who support Price contend that the modern dental community is purposefully trying to discredit work to push more “dangerous” procedures, the truth is that there have been no peer-reviewed studies that are able to make a link between cancer and root canals. It’s equally important to remember that correlation does not equal causation.
For example, Joseph Mercola, a doctor who follows Price’s research, claims that “97 percent of terminal cancer patients previously had root canal.” Unfortunately, misinformation or lack of clarity when presenting information can cause more harm than good. Researchers have concluded that those who undergo root canal therapy are no more or less likely to become ill than any other person. There’s virtually no evidence connecting root canal treatment and other diseases.
Just in case, should I avoid root canals?
For those who follow the work of Drs. Price or Mercola, you might still have lingering concerns—even if the theories have been disproven. Instead of a root canal, some patients choose to have the affected tooth fully extracted. While some may think that this takes care of the whole problem, tooth extraction isn’t without its own complications. When you remove a tooth, there is the potential that surrounding teeth could also be impacted. This could cause a shift in your teeth and forever change your smile. In addition, it could cost more down the line to have a dental bridge or partial dentures placed if you need several teeth pulled.
It is important to look at both the long term financial and health implications prior to making any health-related decision.
Root canals are a safe dental procedure that are performed millions of times a year in the United States. Since the initial study from Price was published, there have been significant medical advancements that make the procedure both safer and more comfortable for the patient.
If you are having significant tooth pain or concerned about other oral health issues, it is important to not put off treatment. Unnecessary delays could cause long-term damage to your mouth and permanently affect your smile.