Root cause on Netflix is a show that has put the jigsaw puzzle pieces together in the wrong way

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I finally watched the Netflix show Root Cause. It’s an anti-root canal documentary and I’m a dentist whose done my fair share of root canal therapy (RCT) in my career. I’ve also studied naturopathy, homeopathy and have a degree in Chinese Medicine. This show refers to all these alternative therapies. 

What I liked about this show was the emphasis it made of the links between mouth health and total body health, the oral-systemic or mouth-body connections. If this show has any positive impact I hope it encourages people to take better care of the their teeth and mouths because it can affect general health. Contrary to the show commentary dentists DO attempt to educate patients about this important concept. 

But unfortunately there was plenty about this show I disagree with from a professional perspective:

1. The show tells us that teeth are made “dead” by the RCT process and that any other dead tissue is amputated from the body. Actually hair and nails are also non-vital tissues of the body as is tooth enamel (the outer part of the tooth). RCT in fact amputates the gangrenous neurovascular (nerve and blood vessel connective) tissue from the inside of the tooth dentine as the shows says would happen for gangrenous tissue on an arm or foot for example.

2. While it’s true that there are lateral canals that RCT does not completely mechanically clean out, chemical irrigation has been shown to permeate these areas to clean. Once sealed, any remaining bacteria no longer have a nutrient source to feed on, thrive or cause further damage, so become entombed like a mummy in an Egyptian pyramid. 

3. The number of people globally walking around with root filled teeth is huge - in both sexes - and there isn’t any correlation between men with breast cancer (a relatively rare condition) and root filled teeth, so this claim that 90% of women who have breast cancer also have root filled teeth is an interesting observation but other correlations such as diet and lifestyle factors, including oral contraceptives are far more likely to cause both, as we understand in dentistry.

4. The meridians that are referred to in this show don’t relate to any traditional meridian system I have studied - Chinese, Japanese shiatsu or Ayurvedic/yogic nadis. In Chinese Medicine that I’m most familiar with, the small intestine, large intestine and stomach channels relate to the jaws and mouth - including the teeth, with the governor vessel and conception vessel each having a point at the very front of the mouth. The stomach meridian does pass through the breast nipple as it descends from the face along the front of the body down the leg to the third toe. I could write an essay on just these relations. 

5. The main character in the show broke his upper front tooth that relates to the heart organ according to the meridian system referenced. Yet his described symptoms were largely metabolic in nature and not closely related to heart or cardiovascular dysfunction at all.

6. Teeth diseases in Chinese medicine are described as either stomach channel damp heat or chronic food stagnation (overeating) - both excess conditions causing ‘heat’ or inflammation for tooth decay. Breast cancer is most commonly an end stage (blood level) yin deficiency imbalance and/or stagnation issue of the meridian and organ with other meridian imbalances also implicating such as kidney and liver or spleen, a different presentation to tooth decay. For gum disease and tooth loosening and loss, kidney organ yin deficiency fire giving steaming bone disease describes this pattern traditionally seen in elderly people. This description also applies to osteoporosis and some presentations of diabetes and can apply to leukaemia and other bone cancers in certain situations. From a Chinese Medicine meridian perspective it would be more correct to say that presence of these signs and symptoms at any place in the body puts the person at risk of further deeper presentations occurring in the future unless treatment and lifestyle changes are applied. So dental disease is therefore an early warning indicator, or as I like to say, a “barometer” for systemic disease, rather than a cause-and-effect relationship that western medicine likes to oversimplify situations too.

7. While I have seen homeopathy speed up healing times for things such as burns, spider bites and even severe herpetic cold sores when Zovirax hasn’t worked, homeopathy can only impact the body’s immune response on a vibrational level, most often down-regulating an over-active or hypersensitive inflammatory response by the person. And even this is a highly variable and individual response that is rarely completely standardised across multiple people. It does not act as an antiviral or antibacterial or surgical alternative solution to a presenting physical condition such as seen with tooth pulp trauma or infective changes . The way homeopathy is presented in this show is misleading, outside the scope of therapeutic effects and downright dangerous. 

8. As others have said, the main character is an actor, presumably this is a hypothetical not real situation. Although what I can tell you is that his original presenting symptoms of burnout in Chinese Medicine are considered a severe kidney or Jing deficiency ie premature ageing and this is very hard or impossible to restore. It takes years to get any marked improvement. I know - I’ve been there myself and I don’t have any dental disease or restorative treatments. This is an all too common situation in people who live on processed foods, sugar and stimulants such as caffeine and energy drinks, along with computer games. Don’t do it kids! 

9. What hasn’t been discussed is the psychological impact of receiving an adversarial blow to the face and the psychosomatic effects that can have on the body of a person. That’s outside my scope of expertise to comment further on, but I throw it in here as a plausible confounding factor to explore hypothetically.

So my professional take on this issue about RCT based on my professional knowledge of both dentistry and complementary systems of medicine referred to in this show is you can rest easy about any RCTs you have, they’re unlikely a source of disease, but if they occurred due to reasons other than trauma, then use it as an expensive warning sign that your diet and lifestyle habits are setting you up for chronic systemic disease in your life. The good news is you can take steps to change your life for the healthier today!

By Dr Christine May

* This article was originally a post on the FaceWell Facebook page