A patient recently asked me about an article they read which described the potential health risks of root canals. The article contends that root canals are the source of serious threats to your health. You can find the article here:
I would say that quackery is a sound description of the article. We’ll break down some of the high points of Mr. Mercola’s advice to the free world. But let’s go “big picture” for a minute.
There are two goals in performing root canal therapy for patients. 1) eliminate the bacterial infection in a tooth in order to 2) maintain a natural tooth as long as possible without having to replace it. In some cases it is extremely difficult to replace a tooth given the surrounding structures (teeth, sinuses, nerves, bone, smile architecture, etc). Root canal therapy and dentistry in general is largely about risk management. If we as dentists can reduce the risk of chronic infection, that’s a good thing. Removing a tooth is sometimes the worst possible thing you can do to jeopardize a patient’s smile or ability to bite. We have great technology in implant dentistry if we need to offer that service. But we have great technology for root canal therapy these days, too. And it works.
When Mercola says a root canal system can’t be thoroughly disinfected and those teeth harbor remaining disease, I feel he’s living in the past. Today’s root canal therapy is performed in a completely different way. It’s not even the same sport. Root canal treatment can and does eliminate bacterial infections. Routinely. When performed properly, it’s rare that the therapy requires retreatment due to re-infection. That’s why patients who receive root canal therapy have resolution of abscesses in the bone all the time. Healthy tissue returns around a tooth that has had a root canal.
I’d say quackery is the right term to use when Mercola is quoting non-peer-reviewed anecdotal evidence from the 1920s, and then attempts to support the anecdotes with more unsupported investigations from decades ago. And to further defame the scientific method, Mercola tries to illustrate how 97% of people who suffer terminal cancer have had a root canal. There’s way too many variables that exist that are not even introduced by Mercola about the pathogenesis of cancer. Maybe it’s a good way to make readers sit up, do a double take, and start reading more intently. It’s definitely not a connection that is based in any published outcomes in medical or scientific literature. It’s akin to saying that if I drink a cup of coffee and cross the street, I’ll be killed by an oncoming car. It’s not a cause-and-effect relationship for people with root canal therapy to buy a ticket to a heart attack or cancer or any other disease.
When Mercola makes assertions that a tooth that has had root canal is a “dead body part,” he’s not telling the truth. A tooth is an organ that is supported by a live periodontal ligament even after root canal is performed.
So, I guess it comes down to this: Mercola can’t tell us with any authority that root canals are a threat to our health when it comes to getting cancer, kidney, liver, lung or heart disease. And he’s also wrong about the other thing: it certainly isn’t the most profitable procedure in dentistry. It’s a generic opinion, just like the rest of the article.