The theory that root canals cause serious illnesses has been debunked for years but seems to have gained new life on the internet after the documentary "Root Cause" was released on streaming platforms in 2019.
The film by Australian filmmaker Frazer Bailey is largely based on discredited dental research from the early 1900s and was pulled from Netflix in early 2019 amid backlash from dentistry organizations, academics and professionals.
Social media about the film lives on, however, including one viral post on Facebook that says the procedure substantially weakens the body.
The post displays an illustration of a row of teeth along with text that says:
"Did you know? Dentists are the only physicians that believe you can get away with leaving dead tissue in the body. One root canal tooth can shut down 63% of your immune system."
The text outside of the picture advises people to watch "Root Cause" and also makes the startling claim that, of all the women diagnosed with breast cancer, "98% had a root canal on the same side."
The post was flagged as part of Facebook’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its News Feed. (Read more about our partnership with Facebook.)
A root canal repairs damaged or infected teeth. Instead of extracting an infected tooth, endodontists drill into the center of the tooth’s root to clean and fill the canals.
The film alleges that infections inside of root canals cause a myriad of serious health problems, including cancer. It instructs viewers to have any teeth treated with root canals removed and replaced with a bridge or implant.
The documentary reportedly includes commentary by alternative medicine physicians who have taken controversial stances on health topics including vaccines and Ebola treatments, according to an article by the Philly Voice.
The American Dental Association told PolitiFact the film’s claims have been disproven by decades of peer-reviewed, scientific evidence and may cause people unnecessary alarm.
The organization said it worked with the American Association of Endodontists and the American Association for Dental Research to contact platforms hosting the film, which included Netflix, Amazon and Vimeo. (The film is no longer available on Amazon Prime video but can still be rented or purchased on Vimeo.)
The groups shared the concern that the documentary spreads misinformation, and that hosting such a film "does a disservice to the public because it may cause unwarranted alarm to the point where people might avoid a very necessary dental procedure."
The American Dental Association added that approximately 25 million new endodontic treatments, which includes root canals, are performed safely each year.
The UCLA School of Dentistry also released a statement regarding the film:
"The people in this movie are spreading misinformation and confusion about root canal treatment that is misleading and harmful to the consumer public. Their premise is based on junk science and faulty testing conducted more than 100 years ago that was debunked in the 1950s, continuously since then and is even more discredited today by physicians, dentists and academics. Mainstream medical and dental communities overwhelmingly agree that root canal treatment is safe, effective and eliminates pain."
The idea that bacteria trapped inside an endodontically-treated tooth will cause illness stems from research conducted by Dr. Weston Price in the 1920s.
Price’s research suggested bacteria trapped in "dentinal tubules" during a root canal could "leak" and cause almost any type of degenerative systemic disease including arthritis and diseases of the kidney, heart, nervous, gastrointestinal, endocrine and other systems, according to a fact sheet on root canal safety by the American Association of Endodontists.
The organization reported that Price advocated for extraction instead, resulting "in a frightening era of tooth extraction both for treatment of systemic disease and as a prophylactic measure against future illness."
In the time since, multiple reports and reviews published in scientific journals –– such as the Journal of the American Dental Association and the Journal of the American Medical Association –– have criticized Price’s research methods and discredited his findings.
We rate this claim about root canals leading to serious illnesses False.