Tuesday, February 26, 2019

"The Root Cause" Netflix Documentary & Psuedoscience: A Recipe for Confusion

A recent trending documentary on Netflix, titled "The Root Cause", has garnered the attention of patients and dentists alike.  The documentary tells the dramatic story of a man's search for the solution to his health problems only to discover that a root canal treated tooth was the cause.  Multiple "experts" from the fields of biological dentistry and alternative medicine opine on the dangers of root canals, titanium implants and cavitational lesions from improperly done tooth extractions.  In the end, people are encouraged to seek out biological dentists to prevent a whole host of health issues from heart disease, cancer, MS and a host of other chronic diseases.

Some of the outrageous claims made in this documentary include:
  • "The vast majority of chronic degenerative diseases begin with problems in the mouth, infections and toxins, and it is only until those are addressed that you are going to get any clear positive response with your disease.
  • "70-90% of all medical problems originate in the mouth"
  • "Data that we have just recently gotten shows now that the #1 cause of heart attack is a root canal treated tooth. Plain and simple. Not correlation, not link, cause and effect"
  • "Conventional dentistry believes that you should save a tooth at all costs and if the patient dies, well that is the price of saving the tooth.  They don't really come with the concept that you should take things that are dead out of the body."
  • "All root canals are infected without any exception."
  • Every tooth connects up energetically through a meridian system to certain organs or glands. Root canal treatment disrupts this normal flow of energy and causes problems with the other tissues of the body on those same meridian lines.
Dr. Weston Price 1870-1948
The documentary references the work of Dr. Weston Price in the 1920's and the resulting focal infection theory.  While Dr. Price's research was creative at the time, it was primitive and would never stand up to modern scientific standards for research.  His research, done in the dawn of what we would call modern microbiology, is still quoted by biological dentists, such as Joseph Mercola, George Meinig and the others in this documentary, as the evidence to support their claims.

In 2006, Dr. Micheal Barnett wrote, "By the 1930's the validity of the focal infection theory began to be questioned, and investigators found, when they considered the available real outcome data, that there was no clear basis for ascribing the occurrence of much systemic disease to the presence of oral foci of infection.  as a result, the focus of dental practice changed such that restorative dental procedures re-emerged as the mainstay of most dental treatment plans."

In 1951, the Journal of the American Dental Association devoted an entire issue to addressing the concept of focal infection and Dr. Price's theory.  It was determined that Dr. Price's research lacked many aspects of modern, scientific research, including absence of proper control groups and induction of excessive doses of bacteria.  These findings shifted the standard of practice back to endodontic treatment for treatment of teeth with non-vital pulp.

The American Association of Endodontist has published that "since that time, decades of research contradict the beliefs of the "focal infection" proponents; there is no valid, scientific evidence linking endodontically treated teeth and systemic disease."

In today's digital world, with the ability to create, publish and distribute digital media, misinformation and myths can live on forever.  For example, a 2012 paper by Joseph Mercola, and the recent Netflix documentary, cite the recycled claim attributed to Dr. Josef Issels, a German physician, who reported that in his 40 years of treating cancer patients, 97% of his cancer patients had root canals.  In today's day and age of fake news, we might also describe these types of claims as "fake science" or pseudoscience.  The anecdotal and epidemiological studies quoted in the Netflix documentary are misleading and designed to create fear.

The Problem With Epidemiological Studies

In a recent discussion with Dr. Hessam Nowzari DDS, PhD, an expert clinician, educator and scientist, he explained the problem with these types of studies.  He said, "If you are using epidemiological studies, you can find correlations between anything.  You can find that people with cancer that had root canal treatment.  But what people don't realize is that you can also find that those people were wearing shoes, but that does not mean that wearing shoes causes cancer! That's the problem with epidemiological studies. Epidemiological studies have no right to make any conclusions whatsoever, and they do it all the time.  Epidemiological studies are routinely used because we are lazy with our research.  We don't do long term studies, or prospective studies because we are lazy...there is no accountability and you can say whatever you want." He continued, "That is why we need Bayesian statistics.  We cannot have epidemiological studies and we cannot only use this nonsense of p-value.  When you start measuring p-value you are measuring so many different outcomes, sooner or later you can find a relationship and then you can justify it with p-value.  Take for example this argument...If you go to bed with your shoes, when you wake up you will wake up with a headache.  What's the problem here?  Is it the shoes? No - the problem is that people who go to bed with their shoes on are usually drunk!  The cause of the headache is the alcohol, not the shoes.  But if you didn't know about the alcohol, you might argue that the shoes caused the headaches.  We have so many of these nonsense types of statements."

The Tooth is Not Dead!

When discussing the Netflix documentary's claim that a root canal treated tooth is dead and dead tissues should be removed, Dr. Nowzari stated... "First, when you do a root canal, the tooth is not dead.  Even after a root canal, the tooth has bone, ligament, gingival fibers, transeptal fibers, periosteal fibers, innervation, circulation all of which is very much alive.  When you go inside the root and do a root canal, it does not affect the system or the rest of the dental organ.  The periodontium is still there, intact and very much alive."

The dental organ includes the tooth, periodontal ligament, bundle bone, periosteal fibers, gingival fibers etc. All of these tissues are alive and vital following root canal therapy.  These tissues are all considered part of the dental organ because they are derived from the same embryologic tissue. The periodontium belongs to the tooth and remains alive after root canal treatment.
Stop Hating Bacteria!

The Netflix documentary also makes the assumption that because we cannot completely sterilize the root canal system we should extract the tooth.  It argues that if you cannot remove all the bacteria, then you will have a chronic problem.   Endodontists agree that there is no way to "sterilize" a root canal.  More accurately, we are removing necrotic tissue, disinfecting the canal system and sealing the canal with antimicrobial filling materials.  Despite our inability to remove all bacteria from the canal system, we find complete resolution of symptoms, healing of the peridontium and a return to full function for the patient.  Dr. Nowzari proposes that we need to take a new approach to looking at the microbiology.

Dr. Nowzari explains:

Tolypothrix sp. of Cyanobacteria
You know for years, we have been trained to think that bacteria are our enemies. But they are not. They are our best friends.  Only a very, very  small percentage of microorganisms are dangerous. I would say that 99.9% of microorganisms are fantastic!.  Microorganisms are responsible for the earth as we know it.  They are responsible for the recycling of carbon and the recycling of all atoms.  They are in the oceans, like cyanobacterium, responsible for the production of oxygen.  Microorganisms are responsible for photosynthesis, production of vitamins, and coagulation. Fortunately, there are so many microorganisms in our eyes and ears and more than a thousand different species on our skin that are protecting us.  I’m always surprised that we don’t die a hundred times every day because we are exposed to so many bacteria and viruses.  The reason is that most viruses and bacteria are good for us. It’s a very small percentage of them that are harmful.

Microorganisms are the first life on Earth. They go back to 4 billion years ago and they are still with us. The same cyanobacteria that gave us this gift of oxygen is still with us.  They are still inside our mitochondria.  Mitochondria has its own DNA because it was a microorganism.  Our mitochondria is a result of symbiosis with bacteria.  It is fascinating what microorganisms are doing for us!

A fascinating thing to consider is that we have more microbial cells in our body than human cells. This is well known fact in microbiology.  Our bodies are made up of about 50 trillion human cells.  We have more bacterial cells than human cells.  The day that we successfully kill the bacteria is the day we have eliminated life on earth.

For example we have 100,000 vital elements in our DNA.  We call those antique viruses, or domestic viruses.  These are viruses that attacked us 2-4 million years ago and we domesticated them.  Today they are providing us flexibility.  So when we get attacked by these viruses we know them, they are who we are.  So first off, we have to recognize that bacteria are our best friends.  Microrganisms are the best chance we have. We have to stop hating bacteria and start loving them!"

Every time you eat, you send billions of microorganisms into your system. Everytime you floss you send billions of microorganisms into your gingiva and your system. You are not dying because they know who we are.  People need to realize that we are bacterial ourselves.  We are of one entity.  It is not humans vs. bacteria.  We are bacterial.  We share our DNA with them.  We are all tied together in this universe and bacteria are an important part of that.

We have to change our understanding and prejudice against microorganisms.  Our focus on “anti-bacterial” or “anti-microbial” treatments and products and overuse of antibiotics is killing our best friends.  Many of these products that we have developed and are overusing are cycling back into our environment.  These are the real environmental threats that we face today.  We have to change our educational system.  We need to teach our medical students that “anti-bacterial” or “anti-microbial” makes no sense whatsoever.  We have to stop it.

The problem with these charlatans (referring the "doctors" in the Netflix documentary) is they just don’t understand microbiology!  They think that microbes are our enemies.  Do you really believe that our immune system could protect our nasal cavity from what’s going on outside in our environment?  No, it’s all because of the microorganisms.  That’s our first line of defense.  But in medical school, they teach our first line of defense is macrophages, antibodies, neutrophils.  That is not true! Our first line of defense are microorganisms, so we better start loving them again!

When I was the director of periodontics, we did lots of periodontal surgery. We never gave antibiotics to patients after periodontal surgery and nobody ever died.  Why? You open the gum, reflected a flap, touched the bone, you put it back and sent them home and nobody ever died.  Why? Because of protective bacteria!  Now since we are using allografts, alloderms, we give antibiotics.  Not to protect the patients, but to protect the product!

Over the last 30 years, we have entered a period of endarkenment.  Who is responsible for this endarkenment? Psuedoscientists.  Now we are using epidemiological studies and everybody is a doctor.  Psuedoscience is pushing us back into endarkenment.  Forget about the enlightenment. People are shocked to hear these kind of things because we have been brainwashed in medical school.  Bacteria are bad.  Talk to any medical student.  Wash or don’t wash your hands five million times a day – nothing is going to happen. Go to the airport – and watch people wiping down the chairs. They don’t realize that contamination is all over the place and the reason nothing happens to us is that microbes are our friends. We need to stop being so sarcastic about microorganisms.  We have to get to know them again. We have to understand that Earth would not be what it is today without microorganisms.

Bacteria and Root Canals

Dr. Nowzari explains: Dentists are trained to think that bacteria are the problem with necrotic teeth.  But the problem is the necrotic tissue and the enzymes that are released with necrosis.  For example, what is more dangerous, living p. gingivalis or dead p. gingivalis which releases endotoxin?  So the problem is necrosis of tissue, and then when the microbes come later, we blame them for the necrosis.  We need to tell patients that their tissue is necrotic and a root canal will remove the necrotic tissue.  That’s why endodontics works. We can never eliminate microorganisms. A very small percentage of the time do microorganisms cause failure.  But what is our failure rate? By far, much less than implants.  And up to now, they are still not capable of generating papilla between two implants. If they are so wonderful, so successful, so bright, just give me 2 mm of papilla and I’ll give you the Nobel Prize!  A tooth with a root canal does not lose the papilla.

The root canal has passed the test of time. Gutta percha is still the best.  At the apical part of the root canal tooth we have an microbial ecosystem, a microbial community.  There is no question that that community is protecting us.  Yes, if you look at the inside of the root canal, there are microorganisms. So? So? Why do you think that because there are microorganisms that is a bad thing? That microbial ecosystem between the end of the root canal and the bone is a community and it is protecting us…Having said that, when you have an abscess, it is a planktonic type of problem. It is not an ecosystem or biofilm problem.  For whatever reason, the bacterial infection is powerful enough to cause the abscess.

Bacteria Hasn't Changed, We Have!

Dr. Nowzari continues:

We have to stop hating microorganisms.  We have to start knowing them again.  We have to start appreciating them.  We have to start to know them if we want to know ourselves.

If you look at the skulls from a million years ago. They did not have cavities, yet they had the same microorganisms as we have today. Our lifestyle has changed. With that change in lifestyle, we are encouraging the formation of cavities.  We change our lifestyle and then we accuse the bacteria of the change, the same bacteria that have been with us for millions of years. We are consuming sugar, 1.2 million people die every year because of sugar, but we don’t attack sugar.  We attack bacteria.  Why do we accuse the microorganisms of causing the problem when what changed was our lifestyle.  The microorganisms that have been with us and have not changed in millions of years. We have changed our lifestyle and then we look for something to blame and that is usually the bacteria.

We must understand that we are all in the same boat. And by all I mean us, dogs, rabbits, birds etc.  We are all truly a part of this universe because our DNA is the same. We are all cousins...We have to start to know the other members of our universe.  We have to study bacteria. There is an interconnectivity of the members of this universe and we should be really grateful for this.  This is really the beauty of life.  That is the miracle of life!


The Root Cause is a non-sensical, non-scientific advertisement for holistic dentistry.  The 100 year old research used to justify its claims do not stand up to modern, scientific scrutiny.  The misinterpreted epidemiological studies used to support their claims should be considered psuedoscience.  The whole premise of the documentary is based on a misunderstanding of microbiology and the role of bacteria in our teeth, bodies and lives.  We will never be able to eliminate bacteria from our teeth, mouth, bodies, communities or world. If we did, our lives and world would cease to exist as we know it.  Bacteria provide more benefits and protection for us than we give them credit for.  Root canal treated teeth are not dead and do not need to be removed.  Root canals allow for dead, pupal tissue to be removed providing a cost effective way for patients to retain their natural teeth and the beauty, form and function that only a tooth can provide.

Learn More!

The past few years have presented an exponential increase in our understanding and knowledge in a variety of scientific and technological endeavors.  Scientists and researchers from different backgrounds have been invited to present their unique research at the upcoming Nowzari Symposium on Friday, May 10th in Beverly Hills, CA.  Dr. Nowzari will present more information about "How our microbes make us who we are".


Barnett, Michael L. "The Oral-Systemic Disease Connection. An Update for the Practicing Dentist". 2006. JADA vol. 137, p 5S-6S.

Root Canal Safety: AAE Fact Sheet 2004

Personal interview with Dr. Hessam Nowzari DDS, PhD on 2/21/2019

Johnson, Marcus. "The Truth About Endodontic Treatment and Your Health. https://www.deardoctor.com/inside-the-magazine/issue-37/root-canal-safety/

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