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Early in 2019, the Root Cause movie on Netflix has caused many enquiries from patients. How safe is the root canal treatment procedure?

Root canals are helpful for the vast majority of patients who get them. Root canals solve three problems:

  1. relieving pain from tooth decay
  2. removing the nerve of the diseased tooth, and
  3. preserving existing teeth rather than pulling them out.

The movie Root Cause includes some good descriptions of the limitations and pitfalls with root canal treatment. It does also however include many claims that are not based on scientific fact or evidence, and we would question these opinions of the movie.

With root canal treatment of a tooth, there are lots of tiny tubules and mini canals that may not be entirely cleaned out, but they are sealed up. One true point in the Root Cause movie is that no root canal is 100% clean. Sometimes, these bacteria do overgrow and can escape into the bloodstream to cause infection, but this is very uncommon.

The extent to which root canal bacteria silently remain undetected, causing all forms of chronic disease was grossly overstated in the movie Root Cause. If it did occur, an infection would cause you pain or swelling. This may include a lump or ongoing discharge of pus from the gum surrounding a previous root canal.

Often the procedure will be staged over many visits to ensure that all the root canal system is clean, stable and assured of the best outcome. At Dental Pod we regard the staging and performance of the root canal as very important, and if the region is sore between visits, we use extra care and sometimes additional visits for irrigation to settle the root canal system.

The long term success of the root canal treatment depends on cleaning and sealing the root canal channels as close to the tip of the root as possible. We use nontoxic sealer and biocompatible materials for our root canal treatment at Dental Pod.

The long term success of the root canal treatment in each case will also depend on a good seal at the access point. At Dental Pod we take special care to ensure that the filling is a good seal by using a combination of filling materials that reduce the chance of reinfection. This may include posts, cores, and crowns that stabilise the tooth part that is visible above the gumline.

Root Cause says that “98% of women with breast cancer have a root canal on the same side as their offending breast cancer.” There is no scientific evidence

that supports this theory. The idea of the cancer being on “the same side” as a root canal is based on the premise of the meridian system, this is not a proven scientific fact.

There has been a lot of sensationalism in the movie Root Cause around statistics that include people who have root canals and those who die of cancer. It’s true that a lot of people who die of cancer have had a root canal. But it’s also true that a lot of people (in general) have had root canals (about 35% over 50 years of age) and a lot of people die of cancer (causes 30% of deaths in Australia). Coincidence does not imply a causative factor – the mere case that there are many root canals and many deaths from cancer will result in many people with root canals dying of cancer – it doesn’t mean that one leads to the other.

Some dentists in the past may have used a formaldehyde derivative for a root canal dressing in between appointments, this is called formocresol. We do not use this chemical at the Dental Pod. If you are unsure and worried about the dressing and methods used in your root canal and suspect a problem, then let us look at the treatment records for this if it took place at a different practice. It is always possible to re-treat the root canal with new methods at Dental Pod.

“Root Cause” movie says that the number one cause of heart attack is a root canal tooth. Again this coincidence does not imply causation. There is no published scientific evidence to prove this claim.

“Root Cause” movie says that the biggest toxic influence in the body of a chronically ill person is a root canal tooth. It’s true that a failed root canal can lead to systemic infection in a very limited number of patients. But there’s no reason to believe that all (or most) chronically ill people are ill due to a root canaled tooth or that most people with a root canaled tooth will become chronically ill. Before any cardiac, transplant surgery, or cancer treatment your medical specialist would require any infected teeth to be either removed or to have completed root canal treatment. These are major medical treatments and successful treatment relies on your oral health to be stable – which can be achieved by way of a root canal.

The movie “Root Cause” claims that dental schools “look at the mouth like it’s a mannequin, like you can do any type of procedure [in the mouth] with no direct impact on the rest of the body.” This is completely false – in dental schools in Australia, the curriculum includes hundreds of hours teaching dental students about how oral and dental health impact the rest of the body (and vice versa).

Ultimately, the most important thing you should know when you get a root canal is that your dentists at Dental Pod and/or endodontists will do a good job. Root canals are more likely to fail if they aren’t performed properly, using the correct kind of sterilisation and clinical protocols.

Occasionally root canals will fail despite the best management – no treatment is ever successful in 100% of people.

Q: Is there less risk of infection if I have a tooth pulled out rather than root canaled?

A: When you pull a tooth, you’re removing all the infected tissue and connected tubules, unlike with a root canal. There may be a slightly lowered risk of infection, but then you must deal with the ramifications of losing a tooth. There will be a gap.

For example, if your tooth is pulled and you get an implant, this involves putting a foreign substance into the bone of your mouth, and implants are susceptible to infection of their own. It is also about double the cost of root canal, plus the expense of a crown.

Alternatively, a bridge may be an option to fill the gap. This depends on the condition and strength of the adjacent teeth to support a bridge. It is often nearly as expensive as an implant.

Update: Netflix quietly removed Root Cause from their library as of February 27, 2019. No explanation has been given, but experts believe this might be to protect the integrity of the high-quality documentaries offered on the streaming service.