Root Cause is a new documentary that controversially links root canals to cancer, but is there any truth in its claims?

Root Cause is a new documentary that controversially links root canals to cancer, but is there any truth in its claims?


Australian filmmaker Frazer Bailey had experienced fatigue, anxiety and depression for years with no idea of where these symptoms came from. Unable to pinpoint the cause of his pain, he turned to a holistic dentist, but the theory they came up with has prompted backlash from the dental community. In January 2019, Bailey released a documentary entitled Root Cause, documenting his search for answers.


The highly sensationalized documentary follows Bailey, played by Ben Purser, on his “personal journey of self-discovery” during which he appears to stumble across decades of medical cover-ups and misinformation. One of the film’s most disturbing claims comes from Dr. Dawn Ewing PhD, author of ‘Let the Tooth Be Known’, who said “ninety-eight per cent of women that have breast cancer have a root canal tooth on the same side as their offending breast cancer.” Troubled viewers were quick to contact dental professionals and ask whether this was true.


In response, the American Association of Endodontists (AAE) and American Association of Dental Research (AADR) wrote a private letter to the film’s distributors, urging them to remove the film from their sites as it was spreading incorrect and long-disproven information. Netflix and Amazon Prime Video have both obliged, amid accusations of multiple false and misleading claims, namely the idea that root canals cause cancer.


Let’s start with the basics – what is root canal treatment?


Root canal treatment is used when the pulp (the soft tissue inside the root canal) becomes inflamed or infected. This mostly occurs due to decay and can cause patients considerable pain. Dentists use root canal treatment to alleviate this pain, remove the bacteria causing it, prevent future infection and save patients’ natural teeth from extraction. The endodontist will examine the tooth and take x-rays before administering local anesthetic. They then make an opening in the crown of the tooth, before using incredibly specialized instruments to clean the infected pulp from the root canal. The space is cleared and disinfected, before being filled with a biocompatible material. In most cases, a temporary filling is also inserted.


What are the alternatives?


Patients who wish to avoid root canal treatment may choose to have the infected tooth extracted, however preserving natural teeth is preferable for several reasons. Firstly, extracting the tooth and fitting an artificial replacement means spending more time and money on the issue than is necessary. Secondly, missing teeth can cause the remaining natural teeth to shift, which could limit a patient’s ability to chew and affect their smile.


So, how reliable is Root Cause?


In 1922, a Canadian dentist named Weston Price devised the focal infection theory, which suggests that localized infections can cause chronic diseases. Root Cause uses this theory to argue that root canals prompt a chronic inflammatory response, because not all of the bacteria in a tooth treated with a root canal can be removed. But it wasn’t until 1965 that the true cause of apical periodontitis – which root canals are used to treat – was found. Therefore, the root canal treatments performed today cannot be compared to those performed in the 1920s by Price. For a start, the process of irrigation, medication and microscopic debridement used today was not mainstream practice back then.


Bailey bases his claims on biased tests that were conducted almost one hundred years ago, which have since been disproven. The doctors and experts quoted in his documentary practice on the fringes and extremes of the medical community. Crucially, no peer-reviewed studies have since shown a link between root canals and cancer. While it is important to address concerns such as these, Afinia Dental base clinical decisions on objective, repeatable evidence. The doctor team meets monthly to review “Best Practices” and share clinical experiences with each other.


Dr. Andrew Killgore, founder of Afinia Dental states, “Around 25 million new endodontic treatments, including root canals, are performed every year, with very high success rates and multiple scientific studies to support their safety. We believe there should be curiosity and questioning not only on this subject but on every procedure in the practice of dentistry.  When we have an open dialogue and we base decisions on quality research we distill positive advances from harmful ones. This allows our patients to benefit from advances and put their safety first.”