As if The Goop Lab weren’t bad enough, a “documentary” called Root Cause has been floating around streaming services this year, attempting to prove that root canals are the source of most human maladies. They supposedly cause everything from back pain to depression, heart disease to cancer. Yet to make such an extraordinary claim, extraordinary evidence must be provided. In this, Root Cause falls woefully short.
Filmmaker Frazer Bailey (who oddly enough does not play himself here) tells the personal story of his descent into health purgatory after being punched in the face and having his teeth broken. He gets a root canal to save his front tooth, and his health immediately begins to deteriorate. Bailey goes through a 10-year odyssey of health problems, including fibromyalgia, low energy, depression, impotence, and a host of other conditions too numerous to mention.
Bailey is lost, trying psychotherapy, antidepressants, chiropractic, homeopathic medicine, and even coffee enemas and high colonics, but there’s no relief until he finds a practitioner with with something called a “Lecher Antenna.” With this glorified dowsing rod, he “analyzes” a blood sample by asking what it’s suffering from (yes, they really talk to the blood sample – apparently it understands English). When the practitioner asks the blood sample if it has a dental problem, it dips down low. It goes down again when he asks if it has a root canal infection. Incontrovertible proof!
We’re then told that having a root canal done is the equivalent of keeping a rotting, burst appendix in our bodies. A variety of talking heads tell us how dangerous root canals are, and that they can never be properly done by definition, since the nerve going down the center of most teeth has many side branches that current dental techniques can’t access.
The contention is that these canals can’t ever be anything but a harbor for pathogenic bacteria, and serve as a reservoir for a continuing infection that travels along “Ayurvedic meridian lines” of the body to distant organs. This “focal sepsis” idea originated in the early 1900s and was thoroughly debunked within a few decades.
Root Cause‘s “experts” combine anecdotal reports with numerous studies, yet never give us a reference we can check for ourselves. This could have easily been done in the credits without taking away from the movie. Nearly all of the studies that were mentioned were either poorly controlled, didn’t have controls, or made spurious conclusions from the data they presented.
The fact that 25 million root canals are done in the United States alone every year, without sending the American populace down the filmmaker’s rabbit hole, is brushed aside with the comment that “different people have different susceptibilities.” Why would the dental profession continue to harm the patients they profess to care for in such a predictable way? The movie’s answer — greed, of course. Never mind that the alternatives to root canals are all more expensive and disfiguring.
Root Cause‘s talking heads briefly discuss some, including extraction and a bridge, implants, or the “healthiest” one, a partial removable denture. They claim implants are not a good alternative because titanium is a metal, so it interferes with the meridian patterns that flow through the mouth. Zirconium, they say, is much better.
Yet zirconium (misspelled “zirconia” in the film) is a metal, right below titanium in the Periodic Table of Elements. In dentistry however, it’s used in its oxide form, which happens to be white, not the icky gray of titanium. Problem solved! Except for the fact that zirconium oxide is brittle, cannot be machined in the same way as titanium, and can fracture after prolonged periods of use. But it looks nice.
Amazingly, there are some good points made in Root Cause. “Cavitation,” when infections are sequestered in bone, is indeed something the dental profession recognizes, and there certainly are cases of poorly-done root canals that can have lingering and distant effects in the body. Modern root canal technique routinely uses CT scans to diagnose and guide treatment, along with microscopes and a litany of chemical sterilizing agents, to do everything possible to prevent possible infection.
But failures happen in all medical procedures. Using dubious connections to disease modalities and highly questionable assertions (without attribution), to make the rare root canal failures the rule and not the exception, removes any credibility from Root Cause. I’d need two or three times as much space to properly address all its flaws and false claims.
Oh, and to return to our hero, after his tooth was extracted and he went on a regimen of many more coffee enemas, vitamin supplements, and colon cleanses (which worked this time since the offending tooth was gone), Bailey gets his mojo back, can get it up again, and is living his dream, carefree life. The musics swells as he suggestively comments that Gandhi had no teeth, before he surfs away into the Australian sunset, to live forever with his cleansed meridians.
Spiro Condos has practiced dentistry for 35 years and is an Associate Clinical Professor at NYU Dental School, where he is a director of the 2-year post-graduate implant program.
AIPT Science is co-presented by AIPT and the New York City Skeptics.
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