There has been a lot of speculation recently about an article that has been making the rounds on social media websites from “realfarmacy.com” regarding a connection between root canal therapy and terminal cancer. As both doctors and scientists, it is important that we here at Dental Health set the record straight. The first thing we want to address is plainly this: There are HUNDREDS of websites out there with similar, oddly-spelled web domains at any given time that spew “information” that at best is controversial and at worst junk science — meaning not conducted using the scientific method. You may remember those lab reports from high school or college science, in which you had to formulate a question, construct your experiment, gather data, etc. No? well luckily we have a nice brightly colored flow chart that will help jog your memory!
While this is a very, very simplified chart of the research steps needed to prove any scientific hypotheses, it speaks volumes to the problems with many of the “conspiracy theory”-type articles found online.
The problem specifically with the article lies within the green “test with an experiment” section of our flow chart. The author writes that “97% of terminal cancer patients” have had root canals, and then goes on to write that there are approximately “25 million root canals” performed every year. The problem with drawing such a direct correlation between cancer and root canals is a common concept in research that has caused many, many research experiments to fail: variables and controls.
-A variable is simply known as an “unknown” factor in research. It is often the focus of research to prove that a specific variable can cause a condition. However, in order to do that one must be able to manipulate the variable to determine if changes in one variable cause changes in another variable. There are many different types of variables, and because of this, experiments have controls.
-Controls or a control group in a scientific experiment is a group separated from the rest of the experiment where the variable being tested cannot influence the results. This isolates the variable’s effects on the experiment and can help rule out alternative explanations of the experimental results.
Simply put, it means this:
If we were to draw a diagram of people that have had root canals and people that simply exist in the US, there would admittedly be a large percentage of people in the US that have had root canals. To draw out the inconsistencies in their research technique, I will compare the number of people who have had root canals as being similar to the number of people that are nearsighted, or wear glasses, as an example.
So, if such a large percentage of people that exist in the US are nearsighted, it stands to measure that the population of people that have or have had cancer is a much, much smaller subsection of the US population. Therefore, when you look at the percentage of people that have had cancer AND are nearsighted, you may be able to say 97% of those people that have had cancer are also nearsighted!!
In this way, you have correlated a direct, unscientific connection between terminal cancer and nearsightedness. However, you have not taken into consideration THOUSANDS of variables, or unknowns, that contribute to cancer, using control groups that test or isolate variables out of our conclusions.
In short, it is false and unscientific to make a claim that an arbitrary percentage of terminal cancer patients are nearsighted, and in a similar fashion, it is equally so to claim an arbitrary percentage of terminal cancer patients have had root canals.
Another very important part of the scientific method are the sources. It is integral to the scientific method to cite all sources of your research and information, and no, sources cannot be wikipedia or any non-scholarly source. This author has cited absolutely no sources, scholarly or otherwise, meaning that none of the statistical data may even exist.
I may also add that there is a disclaimer on the bottom of this article stating that no one from this website is certified to give medical advice, and that before doing anything, you should consult a medical professional, which doesn’t do much for their credibility.
Additionally, every time he cites a study, he cites correlation, not causation, meaning that root canals correlate to higher levels of disease, but that’s not saying that they cause disease. Again, this goes back to what we had mentioned before about variables and controls. It could similarly be argued that, say, eating a rich dessert could correlate to higher levels of heart disease, considering that it has higher levels of fat and cholesterol, but again, can’t say that eating a rich dessert actually causes heart disease.
Furthermore, he alleges that each of the 25 million root canals that are performed every year in this country are “silent incubators for highly toxic anaerobic bacteria” that “make their way into your bloodstream to cause a number of serious medical conditions” and imply that various types of cancer are one of these side effects. There lies a huge falsity: If a root canal has been completed and has (for whatever reason) NOT created a sterile environment in which bacterial colonization has been limited, that tooth will eventually reappear with infection. It can take time for the infection to reappear, however if infection reappears, it will be visible in radiographs and often is clinically swollen or painful. In short, it is very, very rare that a large percentage of bacteria and a re-infected and failing root canal go undetected for “years” as the article claims.
He implies that the entire scientific/dental community is trying to keep this “truth” hidden, but doesn’t ever give proof that the American Dental Association has hidden it, or why they would do so and put many lives at risk. Additionally, we did some google-ing and could not find many of the so-called “dentists” they cite in their statistics. Here at Dental Health, we take the oath we took as medical professionals very seriously, and “do no harm” is one of them.
Our dentists at Dental Health are very open to alternative medicine, and welcome new research and technique with open arms. Learning and growth are important aspects of providing a high standard of care in dentistry. However, we do advise you to use your better judgement about where you receive your information and who you trust and we implore you to look for the use of proper scientific methods or research, scholarly sources and well-known websites prior to making decisions that could adversely affect your dental and overall health!
Dr. Sara Pourkay, Dental Health of Boulder