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We are living in the age of conspiracy theories and fake news. The more outlandish the claims, the more likely people seem to be to believe it. Here we put another crackpot theory about root canal treatment causing cancer to rest.

Root canal treatment has started to get a bad reputation these days after a Netflix documentary ‘Root Cause’ portrayed the treatment as the source of all evils in the body. Is there any truth to the claims in root cause or other such documentaries out there? Is there a world-wide conspiracy to keep the ill-effects of root canal treatment under a veil?

Can root canal treatment cause cancer?

It is a sign of our times that we even have to answer such questions. Everyone is entitled to an opinion but that does not make everyone right. Root cause and other such conspiracy theories peddling content on the internet is the very definition of junk science.

There has been a wealth of information that has been collected about root canal treatment [1], its effects on the body [2], as well as any adverse effects it may have [3]. Spoiler alert: there are no adverse effects on the body.

Root canal treatment is done to eradicate infection and as a mean of treating advanced tooth decay which is beneficial to the body in multiple ways [4]. There is nothing to suggest in decades and decades of research to suggest that there is any link between root canal treatment and cancer.

Breast cancer and root canal treatment

One of the reasons that root cause believes in the cancer-causing potential of root canal treatment is because it claims 97% of patients with breast cancer had a root canal treated tooth in the same side of the jaw.

First of all the data is highly debatable and has not been backed up by any scientific claims. Second of all, 100% of all cancer patients breathe air so does that make oxygen cancerous? Co-relation is not causality and that is something that most people with a basic level of scientific training understand.

Here is another thing. Root canal treatment is provided in far more people than those that suffer from breast cancer. Why is it that not everyone suffers from the same affliction?

Also, cause and effect works both ways [5]. If a root canal was the definitive cause of breast cancer then the removal of the tooth or root canal treated teeth should ensure that breast cancer never recurs in patients. It also means that patients who have never had root canal treatment should never suffer from breast cancer at all.

Systemic effects of tooth problems

Our teeth, gums, and jaws are a significant part of the body. They affect systemic health in many proven manners [6]. In all of the cases, though, it is the untreated effect of dental diseases that is responsible for systemic complications rather than the dental treatment itself.

Gum disease, or periodontitis has been associated with pre-term low birth weight deliveries, heart attacks, diabetes that is resistant to treatment or poorly controlled diabetes. All of these associations are down to the inflammation pathway that has been theorized [7].

Even in these cases, though, gum disease is just a small contributor to the problem, not the primary cause. If that were the case then all these systemic diseases could be cured just by the treatment of gum disease.

Root canal treatment is actually limited to the tooth and does not have any systemic effects. At most, poorly performed root canal treatment would result in something called apical periodontitis which is easily identifiable with X-rays or through clinical symptoms [8]. 

The removal of bacterial infection from the teeth does not in any way leave the body vulnerable to developing cancer.

Understanding root canal treatment

Root canal treatment is provided to treat decayed teeth which have been destroyed significantly. The procedure is pretty mechanical in nature and does not involve any invasive procedures [9]. The teeth that are root canal treated remain embedded in healthy bone asymptomatically even though the teeth are technically ‘dead’.

Dead here only signifies a lack of blood supply and no other sort of decay. The bacteria that exist around root canal treated teeth are the same that are found in other parts of the mouth in both healthy and diseased individuals [10].  

Trust in science

We are in a time where any information can be packaged with an outlandish theory and be sold as ‘science’. That is not how it works. Scientific data has to be observable over a large sample size, repeatable, and tested by peers across the world.

Spreading rumors about dental and medical treatment which has been around for hundreds of years is a good way of getting attention. Just look at the damage that the anti-vaccination movement has caused. False rumors that measles vaccination causes autism is putting children at risk and allowing measles to re-emerge when it was almost on the verge of being eradicated.

Cancer is such a serious disease that anything which is believed to be causing it is going to be eradicated. If not for any moral reasons then for simple to understand economic ones. The entire world is looking for a cure or a definitive cause for cancer. Anyone that finds it is going to be rich and famous beyond imagination so keeping it a secret from the rest of the world makes no sense.

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