The Dangers of Root Canals
Root canal treatment of infected teeth has been around for hundreds of years. Dentists removed only the obvious decayed matter while sometimes leaving the canal completely exposed (14).
As soon as the early 1900’s doctors believed that root canal treatment was a flawed procedure and increased the risk of future health complications. The theory that root canals could trigger chronic diseases and sepsis caused most dentists to perform tooth extraction for almost 40 years. Following advancements in medicine including the use of X-rays as a tool for better diagnosis, doctors eventually followed the lead of a small group of dentists deeming root canal treatment safe. (13)
Despite better diagnostic tools and improved patient experience thanks to anesthesia, there is still much criticism regarding root canal as the safest and most effective option for treating an infected tooth.
Scientific evidence validates old theories that oral health is a foundation for systemic, or whole body, health. A growing body of doctors stand behind Dr. Weston Price and his medical concerns that originally outraged his peers. Dr. Price posed the theory that root canals can endanger the body, both near and far, by promoting disease.
In years following his research the World Health Organization (WHO) would also begin to question the relationship between oral health and whole body function (15).
Understanding Root Canals:
Before you consent to a root canal treatment, understand the risks and benefits to the procedure and then make a decision that works best for you.
The Reason: Dentists recommend root canals to patients who are experiencing pain from a tooth. The procedure is designed to alleviate pain without removing the tooth.
The Cause: The nerve beneath a tooth can become infected or damaged as a result of plaque buildup, tooth erosion, gum disease and other inflammatory consequences of poor oral hygiene.
The Procedure: A root canal procedure involves drilling into the tooth so that the nerve and dental decay can be removed.
The blood supply from the body to the tooth is severed, lymph vessels are removed and the inside contents are cleansed with a chemical solution. A filling seals the empty space and the tooth remains intact.
In theory, the sterilization process is designed to completely remove any bacteria causing inflammation and therefore the source of infection. (6)
The Problem: There is a relationship between oral health and the pathology of chronic diseases including diabetes, osteoporosis and kidney disease (16). This information is not new and it is a well-known fact.
Know the Risks:
The American Dental Association (ADA) claims that there is lacking scientific evidence that root canals definitively cause major health complications (6). They are correct that no study can undoubtedly blame root canals for an individual’s health issues.
However, an understanding of oral health, pathology and microbiology provides evidence that the dangers of root canals cannot be unnoticed. For this reason some dentists today will provide a referral to an endodontist (root canal specialist) if a patient requests the procedure.
Any medical operation must account for the likelihood of human error to occur. Performing dental procedures is no different. The best dentist or endodontist may perform an “operative error” that results in root canal treatment failure.
Examples of human error may include a missed root canal, negligent planning, injury or abrasion to the gums, over-irrigation, the introduction of secondary infection, incomplete removal of pulp, overfilling, improper diagnosis, and poor quality tooth restoration. (6, 17, 25)
Many factors contribute to the success, or failure, of root canal treatment.
Toxic Fillings: The material used to fill or seal a tooth is often made of a toxic substance including the popular amalgam. Amalgam contains a mixture of metals including mercury. Chronic exposure to this toxic substance can cause severe allergic reactions and contribute to mercury toxicity. (23)
Instrumentation Breakage: Although rare, tools used during the procedure can also fail putting your health in jeopardy. Shaping instruments can break or produce undesired lesions in the gums that can go undetected.
Imperfect Seal: Filling a tooth isn’t an exact science. If a doctor uses more filling than required, there is an increased likelihood for bacteria to penetrate the seal and develop into another tooth infection. Consequently this can result in a second root canal. (25)
Limited Detection: Despite medical advancements, X-ray imaging is also limited in its capabilities to detect infection, tooth damage or disease (7). Typically an X-ray is only useful at identifying obvious infection.
Although CT scans can be better at detecting infection, they are expensive and expose the patient to higher amounts of radiation.
Sanitation is Impossible
There is one major false assumption made regarding root canal treated teeth and that is that sanitation of the oral cavity kills 100% of all infectious agents.
Microbes, fungi and viruses can remain out of reach and unsterilized in the miles of microscopic tubules beneath a tooth much like the root system of a well aged tree (3). Radiographic images of well treated root canals show that bacteria can reside and persists from long periods while the patient remains asymptomatic (23).
A commonly used disinfectant, sodium hypochlorite, was tested to determine how much bacterial residue remained in the treated area. Scientists found that up to 50% of the bacteria population was left behind following the sterilization process.
In the image below you will see a study published in the root canal specialists (Endodontists) journal. The authors of the study took individuals who were preparing to have their wisdom teeth extracted.
They did a root canal on one side and then removed both wisdom teeth in three months. The study showed that the tooth without the root canal had only 1% of its tubules infected. However, the tooth that had a root canal three months earlier had 39% of the tubules infected (12).
How Root Canals Promote Secondary Infections:
Denying the association between disease and pathogenic bacteria in the oral cavity is like ignoring a smoking gun for evidence. Root canals are successful at alleviating pain but they create a chronic burden on the immune system.
The function of the entire body is susceptible to compromise as long as pathogens exist in the oral cavity.
The Perfect Conditions: When a root canal is sealed and the blood supply is removed from the tooth, an oxygen free environment is created. Anaerobic bacteria left behind during the treatment not only survive but may have evolved to thrive!
Toxins Travel: These flourishing bacteria are termed “inflammophilic” because of their liking to inflammation. Endotoxins leach into surrounding tissue and migrate into any areas of the body. Coupled with havoc wreaking bacteria found in root canals that secrete macrophages, endotoxins degrade collagen and increase vascular permeability that leads to disease. (20, 24, 26)
Evidence: The presence of anaerobic microbes was discovered in the blood and root canals analyzed from 26 patients with no pain symptoms. The anaerobic bacteria found cause pneumonia, acne, and necrotic tissue infections among other ailments. These pathogens also serve as major inflammatory mediators inducing disease in the body. (18, 19)
A 3 year post root canal follow up study found that the health of 87 patients significantly declined. Health authorities will say correlation does not equal causation. The true misunderstanding and illogic here is that this statement is always true. (3, 7)
Sometimes correlations do show us cause and effect relationships. I believe it is up to every individual to learn the risks of root canal therapies and decide on a treatment that is best for himself.
Antibiotics Promote Drug Resistance:
Antibiotics are no different from the disinfectants that cannot reach bacteria or the oxygen that is depriving the root canal environment. Without circulation and blood flow, antibiotics intended to kill the pathogens in your mouth are instead depleting the healthy bacteria in your body designed to protect the immune system. (3, 7)
Another unnecessary prescription and the overuse of antibiotics is a growing alarm for the prevalence of antibiotic resistant pathogens. Some of the most common types of antibiotic resistant bacteria associated with infections from root canals are: (6, 19, 31)
Enterococcus feacalis: Presence of these bacteria are often the cause of urinary tract infections, meningitis and is also one of the most antibiotic resistant bacteria known. These bacteria are thought to stimulate the production of toxins and further infections in the entire body.
Enterococcus faecalis are one of the most prevalent and virulent bacteria strains present in an infected root canal. They are also most commonly discovered post endodontic treatment. (28)
Pseudomonas: Some strains of these bacteria are antibiotic resistant and can ultimately cause death. Symptoms associated are a weakened immune system, pneumonia and blood infections.
Staphylococci: Commonly referred to as staph, these bacteria cause skin infections, pneumonia, blood poisoning and toxic shock syndrome.
Streptococci: Some strains of these bacteria can be referred to as flesh eating bacteria. This bacterium is linked to symptoms related to strep throat and serious health complications involving pain, fever, swelling, dizziness, rash, confusion, abnormal blood pressure and toxic shock syndrome.
Pro-Root Canal Specialist Recognizes Health Threat
One of the original founding members of the Root Canal Association, Dr. Meinig, commented on a study performed by Dr. Weston Price in the early 1900s. Dr. Meinig notes that the cause of secondary infections is not solely dependent on the presence of pathogenic bacteria but also the production of toxins produced from these bacteria. (7, 11)
Dr. Price’s research team found that implanting an infected tooth from a human to another animal would cause the same systemic complications to the animal in which the human was suffering (7). In fact, Dr. Price ran well controlled experiments contrary to popular medical rumors and discovered that animals infected with the toxins alone had a significantly higher rate of becoming sick and dying.
If one of the major proponents for root canal treatment can re-assess his understanding of oral health and its relationship with chronic disease, it is logical that more dentists should understand the health risks and focus on educating and providing informed consent to their patients.
One of the easiest assumptions for an individual to make is that if there are no symptoms of infection post root canal treatment, the root canal is not contributing to deteriorating health. Unfortunately, this assumption has one limiting factor: time.
Dr. Meinig comments in an interview that some individual’s immune systems may be better equipped to manage the bacteria and the released toxins (7). Over time, the body’s natural defense systems weaken and eventually become destroyed.
It is inevitable that infectious agents will maneuver their way to other organs in the body. Symptoms can manifest as chronic diseases which can be fatal if left untreated.
A Pathway to Degenerative Disease:
According to the work performed by Dr. Price and his team, there are specific chronic and degenerative diseases that stood out in greater prevalence than others. In order of the highest risks found associated with root canals are: (7)
- Heart and circulatory disease
- Inflammation in the body found in arthritis and rheumatoid arthritis
- Brain and nervous system diseases
Virulent bacteria harbored in a root canal emit toxins that cross into the circulatory system and congregate to induce cardiovascular dysfunction. The accumulation of bacteria appears as lesions in or surrounding an infected tooth. Including people with that have received endodontic treatment, the presence of these lesions is shown to increase the risk for coronary artery disease (30).
Individuals with missing teeth were up to 76% more likely of developing a heart attack compared to those with most or all of their teeth (10).
In fact, periodontal infections induces chronic inflammation that is linked to autoimmune diseases including cancer metastasis. One 24 year study of more than 1,000 individuals found a high rate of cancer growth and diagnosis in the people whom had developed dental infection. (22, 26)
Mounting evidence supports the likelihood that a root canal procedure can increase an individual’s risk of developing type-2 diabetes.
Metabolic complications associated with type-2 diabetes is intimately linked to the body’s immune system. Periodontal disease and tooth loss induces inflammation that can trigger physiological factors evident in type-2 diabetics. (11)
Periarticular lesions, similar to those linked to heart disease, are commonly present in people with diabetes. These lesions were produced in rats by exposing the inside of a tooth to the oral cavity or by introducing bacteria pathogens. (27)
Only 3-5% of all teeth examined in dental patients had periarticular lesions. In patients with previously treated root canals, these same lesions comprised up to 61% of individuals.
Care Tips for Oral Health:
Don’t be alarmed that you are destined for total health failure if you have already had a root canal treatment. Preventing dental decay is of primary importance but there are strategies you can take to better your teeth and gums while also reducing your risks of chronic diseases.
- Brush your teeth a minimum of twice a day and flossing daily
- Visit the dentist as recommended by your doctor
- Replace your toothbrush once the bristles become frayed or at least every 3 or 4 months
- Use a tongue scraper to remove dead cells and bacteria which cause bad breath
- Brush using a nontoxic toothpaste free of fluoride and chemical additives
- Limit acidic foods and beverages in your diet by removing soda altogether and replacing it with purified water
- Consume a healthy diet rich in whole food sources and nutrients. Fat soluble vitamins A, D, E and K and essential minerals like calcium and magnesium are an integral part of maintaining oral health.
Some preventative methods at maintaining the health of your teeth and gums may be new to you but stem from a traditional style of medicine that dates back to over 3,000 years ago in India (8).
Ayurveda medicine is a holistic health system suggested to prevent and heal an estimated 30 systemic diseases that result from deteriorating dental hygiene (8).
Some members of the medical community compare its benefits similar to that of reflexology in which the tongue has a specific location that can stimulate either harm or healing abilities to a distant organ in the body.
The practice of oil pulling may sound unappealing but is a very simple practice that is claimed to cure headache, asthma and is a remedy for bleeding gums, dull senses including taste and vision, sore throat, and tooth decay. Although sesame oil is known as the Queen of Seed Cropsfor its health benefits, sunflower oil has also been traditionally as well as coconut oil. (8, 9)
Compared to standard mouthwash, oil pulling practices using sesame oil actually was found to significantly prevent against plaque-induced gingivitis by decreasing plaque and bacteria. Two methods are referred to often in oil pulling practices and can be used on a daily basis: (8).
Graha Gandusha: In this style of oil pulling, the mouth is completely filled with oil and held for up to 5 minutes without gargling.
Kavala Graha: If expanding your cheeks for up to 5 minutes while holding liquid is uncomfortable or cannot be done, Kavala Graha involves filling the mouth with only enough oil to be swished throughout your teeth and gums for 3 minutes.
Have you ever thought to dip your floss in essential oils for added antibacterial and antifungal properties? Using a 100% pure and therapeutic grade of essential oil from a trusted supplier, rub a drop of tea tree oil or peppermint oil along a strand of floss to receive its many health benefits.
Experiencing pain and swelling in teeth or gums? Clove oil acts as a topical anesthetic. Ditch the chemically derived products containing benzocaine and switch to a natural pain remedy proven to be just as effective as its conventional and toxic alternative. (2, 4)
The natural oils found in herbs are another great source at preventing microbial diseases in the oral cavity. Herbal tooth gels have been shown to provide the same effectiveness as fluoride in eliminating carcinogenic bacteria and contain no adverse health consequences following use.
Herbs and Spices
Do you have a favorite toothpaste flavor? Varieties may include peppermint, fennel, cinnamon or clove.
These spices are not only trendy flavors but their presence in toothpaste acts as anti-inflammatory agents killing bacteria and oral pathogens. Add these spices and other herbs like pepper, ginger, turmeric, garlic, oregano and basil to your go-to culinary staples for their protective benefits.
Do your eating habits resemble this scenario? You start the day with a cup of coffee. Maybe later you snack on an orange or get the fresh squeezed lemonade for a beverage at lunch. Dinner consist of a plate of pasta and meatballs drenched in red sauce only to be followed up with a taste of sugar laden sweet treat for dessert or a glass of red wine.
Since you last brushed your teeth after waking up your mouth has been saturated in acidic foods and beverages. This acidic environment encourages the growth of bad bacteria, plaque buildup and dental decay.
Supplementing your diet with probiotic rich foods and beverages such as sauerkraut and kombucha can help inhibit the growth of bad bacteria (5, 9). Healthy bacteria support dental hygiene by improving the pH balance and providing your mouth with the weaponry it needs to prevent decay.
Unlike any other herbal tea, green tea has a natural compound known as catechins. Catechins are a type of polyphenol which is not only a micronutrient found in our diet but a powerful antioxidant. Green tea has anti-inflammatory properties that are far reaching in both oral and overall health.
Tobacco users who either smoke or used smokeless products and drank green tea regularly had a lower risk of developing cancer than the tobacco users who did not consume the tea. (9)
It is speculated that the anti-inflammatory components of green tea disrupts inflammatory agents and its triggers that breakdown collagen in tissue (29). Daily consumption can inhibit bacteria in the oral cavity and support healthy teeth and gums.
People who consume 2 cups of green tea per day have been shown to have lower levels of the bad LDL (low-density lipoprotein) and total cholesterol. Green tea may reduce one’s risk of cardiovascular disease by up to 33% as well as prevent obesity and slow the progression of Alzheimer’s disease (9).
Find A Holistic Dentist Near You
If you are not already seeing a holistic dentist, find one near you trusted to ensure your optimal health. Already have a root canal? A holistic dentist can provide recommendations to protect you from the dangers associated with root canal treatment.
You can also visit the Holistic Dental Association to view the dentists’ profiles and learn about the services they provide (2). These dentists are trained in natural strategies to help you remove root canals and improve your oral health.