Infected root canals are a common example of the mouth-body connection that dental schools need to teach more about, and that consumers of dental services need to be more aware of. Everyone needs to be alerted to the possibility of a root canal infection. And everyone should be alerted to the danger of tolerating chronic focal infections in the jaw for any length of time, because of possible ramifications on patients’ oral systemic health.
Chronic oral infections can raise your risk of a variety of illnesses. Foremost are stroke and cardiovascular problems, but also rheumatoid arthritis, diabetes, respiratory infections, cancers, and pregnancy problems. If a person has a root canal and is having any of these issues, he or she needs to make sure that the root canal is not infected. Fighting an infection day after day in a dead root-canal tooth will tax anyone’s immune system. If a patient is struggling immunologically, that is a sign of a possible chronic infection, and dentists need to be able to determine if the cause of the immune challenge is in the mouth. Patients also need to be aware of these risks when dentists offer them a root-canal procedure in the first place.
As a systemic dentist, I do not offer root canals to my patients because I am quite well aware that the systemic risks outweigh any benefit. For oral-systemic health, I believe infected teeth need to come out rather than be root canaled and kept in the jaw as a dead tooth. A root canal tooth is a dead tooth that will attract infection over time because the tooth is made of thousands of microtubules that attract anaerobic bacteria.
To demonstrate the risks, I want to share experiences that I have had in my practice treating patients with breast cancer who had infected root canals. Over time, the physicians I team up with was sending me breast-cancer patients for dental assessment. In these cases, blood panels showed signs of infection but the doctors could not locate a source. When you have a situation like this, the next logical step is to check for possible infection in the mouth. I began the practice of sending these patients in for thermography, which is a noninvasive way to map the body by temperature. Thermography is an extremely useful diagnostic tool in this regard, although most insurance plans do not cover it. When I looked at the hot and cold areas of the body in the thermography pictures of the breastcancer patients, I could clearly see what was going on. In thermography, cold areas reveal not enough blood flow, whereas hot spots reveal areas of possible infection. In the breast-cancer cases that had been referred to me, I saw hot spots in the jaw suggesting focal infections from root canals that were draining via the lymphatic system straight into the breast area.
Thermography allowed me to locate infection in the jaw of these breast-cancer patients that their doctors could not find, even though blood tests clearly indicated an infection somewhere in the body. I could then use digital x-rays of the area to confirm my suspicion. Could these chronic, focal bacterial infections in the jaw have caused the patients’ breast cancers? Not directly, because bacterial infections do not cause cancer. But indirectly, a chronic infection can contribute to the development of cancer because, over time, chronic infections wreak havoc on a person’s immune system.
A weakened immune system sets the stage for dysfunction in cytochemistry (cell biochemistry) that can lead to cancerous tumor growth and the inability of the immune system to trigger cell death in cancer cells. Cancer (and a host of other diseases) is more likely to appear in a person who is struggling immunologically. Obviously, people can become overwhelmed dealing year after year, even decade after decade, with chronic infections in the jaw from infected root canals. Often the immune system is so relieved when the infection is finally removed that the patient rebounds quickly into a greater state of health.
I like to work closely with the patient to arrange to see the attending physician the day after oral surgery because patients often experience a huge shift on that day. I find it absolutely crucial that patients are prepared properly to enter each new stage of healing. When surgery is done in a non-traumatic way after the patient has been prepared properly on all levels – neural, lymphatic, structural, and psychological – the body is so relieved to have the infected tissue out of the jaw that it just shines. Let me give you an example in a case I treated.
A prominent actress who was very well-off had breast cancer not once, but twice. She had surgery that was followed by radiation and chemotherapy. After the second bout of cancer, she was no longer able to perform, so she retired to the Caribbean to recover her health. She came to me to get a fresh start. She never wanted to have breast cancer again, so she was checking everything, including her teeth. She wanted to know why her breast cancer returned because she had done everything her doctors had told her to do the first time. I referred her to a naturopathic physician to do a full-body analysis. Her blood test showed signs of infection somewhere in her body. I sent her for thermography, and her thermography report showed hot spots where her six root canals were draining infection into her lymphatic system, right into her breasts. Physically, those infected root canals were weakening her immunity. Energetically, they were causing disturbances in her vitality.
Emotionally and spiritually, she was exhausted. She was a strong woman, but her long battle with breast cancer was obviously wearing her down. This brave woman, who had been through so much, was an intensive researcher and spent hours on the Internet. She was eager for information and that curiosity would provide her salvation. She wanted to know her options, which we reviewed together. The first option was to completely amputate all six teeth with infected root canals because those dead teeth were attracting recurrent infections that were wreaking havoc on her immune system’s ability to deal with cancerous cells. Mind you, I say amputate very deliberately; it’s not really an extraction. It’s an amputation when you remove a tooth.
As I said before, each tooth is like an organ with a blood supply, neural supply, connecting ligaments, lymphatic supply, and so forth. All of this structure has to be properly removed so that there is no dead tissue left to attract infection. The second option was to refer her to a root-canal specialist – an endodontist – to redo the root canals and hope that the chronic infections would go away permanently. However, in my experience, this never happens. In a matter of years, sometimes months, sometimes even days, the infection returns. Each time the patient’s immune system gets more and more stressed. Gut flora problems can emerge, as the endodontist will typically prescribe antibiotics to treat the infection in the root canal so that he can redo the root canal.
The patient feels better in the short term, but pathogenic bacteria can survive the round of antibiotics and become antibiotic-resistant. Meanwhile, the patient’s good bacteria are killed off – the very ones that would help keep the bad bacteria in check. The result is that when the infection comes back a second time or third time, it is often more virulent and the infection is worse, placing even more intense stress on the immune system. The last resort was to inject ozone around the infected and dead root-canal teeth in order to sterilize the infected areas and give her immune system a break.
Dental ozone therapy is an amazing tool for killing anaerobic bacteria on contact and can provide immediate relief. However, this technique doesn’t last forever. In time, the infection will return because the dead tooth with the root canal is like a sponge for pathogenic bacteria – the kind of bacteria that live without oxygen. It is simply impossible to clean out all bad bacteria in a root canal because there are literally hundreds, if not thousands, of microtubules in a dead tooth that cannot be reached. My patient was adamantly opposed to amputating her teeth. She told me that as an actress, even a retired actress, she needed to keep those teeth in her mouth. Period.
Choosing not to amputate left only two options: have the root canals redone or start injecting ozone. She chose the ozone injections. We took a bacterial count of her mouth and measured her biofilm to get a baseline reading. After her first ozone treatment, we measured her oral bacterial count on a daily basis. By the 28th day, we saw the levels go back up again. She set up a schedule to come in every 30 to 40 days for ozone injections. Sometimes she would go 40 days, but other times she wouldn’t make it even 30 days without the return of symptoms. She would fly in on a private jet, limo over to my office, spend a few hours getting ozone injections, and then off she would go. She had the means to do it and the commitment and this was her choice.
Between treatments, she used a mouth rinse with ozonated oils and was on a lymphatic drainage program. She also went to a chiropractor to assist lymphatic drainage and followed a nutritional protocol to support her immune system. It took more than ten appointments for my patient to make her final decision about the best approach to take. After about 10 months, I received an email stating that she had made the decision to have all the teeth with root canals removed. She explained that over the past 10 months, she experienced feeling like a different person right after ozone treatments. As the infection would come back, she witnessed herself change back to the other person. She liked the new person better.
Her vanity aside as an actress, she wanted to be that other person. In addition, a grandchild came into her world who made a difference in her life. The joy from that baby made her want to focus on being around for as long as possible. She knew that the root canals were placing a constant stress on her immune system and she did not want to risk another bout of cancer. With her permission and even enthusiasm, we safely removed all six infected root canals. The patient has remained cancer free.
© 2014 Alireza Panahpour, D.D.S. All rights reserved by the author. Find more information at www.systemicdentist.com and http://thegooddentist.is Excerpted from The Good Dentist, forthcoming from The Healist Books, 2015. This article was previously published on page 24 of HEALTH FREEDOM NEWS / SPRING 2015