Root Canal: Dangerous or Just Misunderstood?

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Root canals are a controversial topic in the dental world (if you didn’t know!). I’ve always had a fascination with studying oral health, and while I’m glad to have never needed a root canal (or an alternative), I felt it was good to research them and be prepared in case I ever did.

Many dentists consider the root canal—a dental procedure to treat deep dental cavities—to be a safe procedure, while other research has shown that root canals may allow dangerous bacteria to grow in the mouth and the rest of the body.

What Is a Root Canal?

Root canals are recommended for dental cavities that have progressed into the root of the teeth. The treatment of such cavities requires that all the infected pulp inside of the teeth be removed and cleaned, before the dental filling materials are injected into the tooth.

This allows the patient to keep the tooth, although the living tissue inside of the tooth is replaced, and the tooth is considered dead.

Is a Root Canal Safe?

This is where things start to get confusing, and it really depends on who you ask.

On the one hand, the American Association of Endodontists states that there is no evidence that root canals could be linked to cancer or any other inflammatory diseases. On the other hand, some scientific evidence shows there could be a potential for some pretty serious problems.

So Who Is Right?

Let’s look at the data.

One study tested the effectiveness of root canal cleaning procedures and found endotoxins and pathogenic bacteria in 100% of root canals. The cleaning procedures can clear up to 44% of these bacteria, but the bacteria always persist.

The theory is that this could lead to long term problems, including some pretty serious ones. In fact, there are five ways that a root canal can lead to problems, including:

  1. Infection inside or outside of the root canals
  2. Extruded root canal filling causing an immune response
  3. Accumulation of cholesterol crystals that irritate the tissues
  4. Cystic lesion where the root canal is done
  5. Scar tissue healing of the root canal site

Even after the root canal procedure is long over, it appears that bacteria can (and often does) remain. This can logically lead to infections and other problems, and antibiotics are often given if needed.

However, while antibiotic use presents its own side effects, one study has shown that antibiotic use does not significantly reduce pain and swelling. Overall, there is no strong evidence suggesting that antibiotics really help with root canal infections.

The Problem with Lingering Bacteria

The bacteria (again, present in 100% of all root canals) can stimulate inflammatory molecules such as Interleukin-1beta and TNF-alpha, thereby raising inflammation throughout the body.

In severe cases, this can cause fever, malaise, and abscess or cellulitis in the head and neck area that may even require hospitalization.

Even without major complications, the bacterial toxins and inflammation can lead to seemingly unrelated health problems, as Dr. Weston A. Price discovered.

Weston A. Price on Root Canals

Dr. Price, a dentist known for his work on the relationship between nutrition and dental health (and overall health), was able to show that root canals can cause chronic diseases of inflammation by experimenting on rabbits.

Here’s what he did:

He conducted a series of experiments on rabbits, using extracted teeth from people with various health problems. His research found that rabbits would develop the condition that the person with the tooth had.

In other words: when using a tooth from a person with heart attacks and arthritis, the rabbit implanted with the root canal tooth would develop heart attacks and arthritis within a few weeks.

Back to the Bacteria

The bacteria that are found inside of root canals include groups of bacteria called Fusobacterium, Parvimonas, Prevotella, Porphyromonas, Dialister, Streptococcus, and Treponema.

Many of these bacteria are naturally present in the mouth, but they only become a problem when we are infected with them. When they grow in the root canal, the anaerobic conditions inside the root canal can cause these bacteria to become more dangerous. In addition, the ecosystem of these bacteria can make them even more dangerous.

These bacteria, in the context of periodontal infections, are linked to many chronic inflammatory diseases:

Because these bacteria are transmissible, it explains why the exact same diseases could be transmitted from humans to rabbits by tooth transplantation in Dr. Price’s experiments.

This list of links between root canal bacteria and diseases is by no means exhaustive, but the literature has consistently shown that the infections of these bacteria in the mouth are linked to chronic inflammatory diseases.

Root Canals: What to Do?

After researching, I would personally choose not to get a root canal if I was ever told I needed one. There are some less well known alternatives, but they also all present their own challenges. The best option, of course, is to maintain optimal oral health as much as possible and hopefully never have to make this decision.

Pros and Cons of Getting a Root Canal

Unfortunately, when a tooth has progressed to the point of needing a root canal, there aren’t any really great options. And even within the dental community, the recommendations vary widely. As this article explains:

Dentists who speak out against the safety of root canals bring up 3 main concerns:

  1. There is no way to completely remove all the dead tissue from the tooth
  2. There is no way to sterilize the tooth, thus leaving bacteria in the tooth
  3. The materials used to fill the hollowed out tooth leak and cause problems “downstream”

Those in the profession who claim that root canals are safe claim:

  1. Enough of the tissue is removed
  2. The body’s immune system can better get on top of any existing infection
  3. There are improved substances to fill the tooth
  4. There are no other suitable options

Alternatives to Root Canal Treatment

As explained above, the bacteria present in dental cavities can be quite dangerous. Deep dental cavities should certainly be taken care of, especially those that have the potential to infect deeper in the jaw.

So if a root canal isn’t the best option, what is?

Some holistic dentists suggest that if the dental cavities are deep, the tooth should be extracted with the periodontal ligament removed to prevent further infections. Of course, this leaves a person without a tooth, though there are now several options if a tooth has been removed, such as:

Dental Implants

The tooth with cavity is removed and replaced with a metal implant. It still remains controversial whether the implantation of metal to replace the tooth can cause problems as this can raise the levels of such metals in the body and cause an immune response.

Dental Bridge

This may be a safer option than dental implants since the metal is not implanted into the gums in the same way.

Partial Denture

A removable denture to replace the extracted tooth is the least invasive option.

What to Do with Existing Root Canals

There is enough information (and enough conflicting opinions) when it comes to root canals to make a person’s head spin! Hopefully, the emerging research will shed some light on the safety of root canals in the future, but what about people who already have one or more?

Get a Second Opinion

A modern-day researcher, Dr. Boyd Haley at the University of Kentucky, completed follow-up research to Dr. Price’s work and his findings are telling:

Roughly 25% of the root canal teeth studied had bacteria within them which produced toxins that were fairly benign. 50% of the teeth studied contained bacteria within their structure that would challenge a healthy immune system. The last 25% of the teeth contained bacteria which produce toxins more powerful than botulinum (Important note, botulinum is widely recognized as the most toxic substance known to humans). This bears repeating. 25% of the teeth Dr. Haley studied contained a toxin stronger than the strongest toxin known to humans…

Many holistic health experts, including Dr. Mercola and many of his dentist colleagues, recommend removing the infected teeth and root canals, even if they look and feel fine. Dr. Haley, who did the above study, had his teeth with root canals removed after completing his study.

Because every dental procedure comes with a risk (not to mention the expense), it is best to consult a biological dentist who is well versed in Dr. Price’s work. I would suggest the same when considering wisdom tooth removal or any other surgical dental procedure.

Adjust Lifestyle Choices

Thanks to modern lifestyles, we all know that the incidences of heart disease, Alzheimer’s, and diabetes are on the rise. Based on the research of Dr. Price and Dr. Haley, it appears that root canals may contribute to a subset of the cases.

Personally, I’d choose to have a tooth pulled instead of getting a root canal if I ever had to make the choice. I’d rather lose a tooth than have a risk of long-term inflammation and other conditions (of course, once you’ve gotten a cavity, starting on a remineralization routine is a good way to keep from needing a root canal in the future).

Some sources suggest that if it isn’t possible to avoid or remove a root canal, certain lifestyle factors may help mitigate any potential problem. In fact, these are things we should probably be doing anyway, including:

  • eating a low inflammatory diet
  • managing stress
  • maintaining gut health
  • using plant extracts like aloe vera, rosemary, or eucalyptus that have some antimicrobial extracts against bacteria that infect the teeth and root canals. (However, there is no clinical study demonstrating the safety and effectiveness of these substances in real human root canals, as we still don’t know how well these substances … or even antibiotics … can reach the blood that flows in that area.)
  • Choose safe and effective dental products (like Wellnesse toothpaste!) to maintain good oral health

Root Canals: Bottom Line

Root canals are a tough subject. There certainly isn’t a clear and completely safe solution. I think all dentists would agree that the best scenario is to have great oral health and avoid ever needing this controversial procedure if at all possible.

For those who already have or need a root canal, it may be helpful to find a trusted dentist to help explore the options.

Additional Reading & Resources

This article was medically reviewed by Dr. Steven Lin, who is a Board accredited dentist trained at the University of Sydney. With a background in biomedical science, he is a passionate whole-health advocate, focusing on the link between nutrition and dental health. As always, this is not personal medical advice and we recommend that you talk with your doctor or dentist.

What’s your take on root canals? Please weigh in in the comments below.

Ever wondered if a root canal is safe? Learn what the science says about the risks and ways to protect your health before your next procedure.

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Katie Wells Avatar

About Katie Wells

Katie Wells, CTNC, MCHC, Founder of Wellness Mama and Co-founder of Wellnesse, has a background in research, journalism, and nutrition. As a mom of six, she turned to research and took health into her own hands to find answers to her health problems. is the culmination of her thousands of hours of research and all posts are medically reviewed and verified by the Wellness Mama research team. Katie is also the author of the bestselling books The Wellness Mama Cookbook and The Wellness Mama 5-Step Lifestyle Detox.


180 responses to “Root Canal: Dangerous or Just Misunderstood?”

  1. Dr Elmar Jung Avatar
    Dr Elmar Jung

    I agree with Katie that rather have a tooth pulled than have a root canal.

    However, as a replacement, I would only agree to a 100% metal-free metal option, whether it is implants, a bridge, a crown, or a denture. The best material for implants at the moment is zirconia.

    Titanium, the metal most implants are made from, can react very badly with the jawbone, causing an inflamed and necrotic jawbone.

    When these implants are removed, a lot of the jawbone surrounding them is lost due to inflammation or necrosis. The fact that many of those implants can be uncrewed shows how little they are integrated into the jawbone.

    Also, nowadays, with all the EMF and WiFi around us, I prefer to be metal-free rather than being an antenna.

    The downside of a bridge is that the dentist must remove all of the enamel and a lot of the dentine to create space for the bridge to fit. This can make the teeth sensitive, and worst case, if drilled with too high a RPM, too much pressure, or too close to the nerve, it can even kill the tooth.

    Each tooth used as a retainer for a bridge has reduced mobility. A bridge in the upper jaw has an additional downside because it also reduces the movement of the skull bones.

    I would also refrain from a bridge that spans from the right to the left side of the mouth because this would further affect the capacity of the skullbones to move.

    The same holds for metal-containing dentures.

  2. Connie Avatar

    Try oil pulls. They have helped me get rid of tooth pain. Look online for how to do it, But, you just use a “pulling oil” ( coconut oil is what I use, or olive oil or seseme oil are some choices), Hold a tablespoon of the oil in your mouth, swishing it around and getting as much as possible around the problem tooth. Keep it in your mouth for 10 minutes if you can. You can add one or two drops of peppermint oil or clove oil for extra benefit. (they are also “pulling agents”). Do NOT swallow. Spit it out in the trash so it doesn’t clog your drain. I use coconut oil with either 1 or 2 drops of peppermint oil. This has helped me a lot! It is Not a cure, but will draw out infection and at least buy you some time. Hope it helps you!

  3. Dr. Brady Avatar
    Dr. Brady

    As a practicing dentist, I feel compelled to share what I have learned in my 38 years of practice. Full transparency-the last 8 years-I have converted and become holistic or biological. My journey has taken me along a path of great learning and experience. Here’s what I know. Mercury amalgam fillings are poison. Plus they crack teeth–always! Root canals, even when done properly cannot be 100% sterile and free from bacteria-no matter who does them. They always produce toxins. Teeth when removed improperly can develop infections (cavitations) in the jaw bone. Bad dentistry using improper techniques and unhealthy materials, taxes the body’s immune system. The tooth may not hurt but it’s a bigger problem than the single tooth.
    Some people’s immune systems can handle the low grade infection that root canals often have for a period of time. Others can’t. You have to ask yourself if you are willing to take the risk?
    Here’s one more important answer. Don’t use metal implants. I have removed them and found rust and/or corrosion on them. Not good. Zirconia is the best option. Zirconia is very safe and non-reactive. I’ve placed over 100 and no immune issues or other biological problems.

  4. Claire Avatar

    Have you read about pulpotomy? It’s apparently a very underutilized (in adults, at least) alternative to root canals that sounds very much worth checking out if you find yourself in this unfortunate situation (and let’s remember that you can have the best diet and oral hygiene in the word, and you’re still just one wrong move away from facing this decision, as trauma can lead to root canals, too). Here’s a link to a recent study to get you started ( The key takeaway here is that if you have this procedure and it’s successful, your tooth is still alive (vital)! Finding someone to do it might be another issue, but I’d travel to Timbuktu to keep my tooth alive.

  5. Karli Avatar

    I’m quite depressed over this. Legitimately. My tooth hurts. They drilled and filled a visible cavity that I developed in one of my top, front teeth during pregnancy, despite eating relatively well and taking supplements and practicing good oral hygiene. It still hurts. I told them I think they missed something filling it. They took a look and said it looks fine and that I must need a root canal. I’ve been ignoring that for months. It doesn’t always hurt, but aches often enough. I’ll get a sharp pain if I brush a certain spot near my gum or try to pick food out. But, they are right in saying there is nothing visibly wrong. Still, I don’t know about the root canal. If it wasnt a front tooth I’d consider having it pulled.

    1. sayhien Avatar

      The article that purports RCT to cause cancer is a myth.

      I had RCT yesterday for a molar tooth that ached every now and then. Even when it didn’t ache, I knew that something was wrong with that tooth. Made an appointment to do RCT and the process was more comfortable than I had expected. Now, I feel better in that tooth and I know I made the right decision. Of cause there’s no guarantee that the RCT will continue to work in the long term but if I experience pain again, then I’d either do RCT again or extract it. But chances are high that I shouldn’t according to stats.

      Your symptoms sound like you need to undergo an RCT now! Do it and save your sanity.

      1. Paka Temp Avatar
        Paka Temp

        You don’t know that you made the right decision. You only believe you did. If you actually read the above article, you can’t possibly say you KNOW that root canals are safe. Maybe they appear to work out in the majority of cases, but we cannot always go by how things feel. If bacteria is truly present in 100% of root canals, then I would think it’s a no-brainer to realize that could very likely cause problems. The mass of people simply believe what the “scientists” say as though they have no potential gain in promoting a bad procedure. Just like we were told that mercury amalgam fillings were safe. They aren’t! I had all mine removed when over time I was tasting a metallic taste in my mouth constantly. The specialist I went to tested me for mercury gas (it’s the gas that’s the problem, not dissolved solids in the saliva that pass through the system when swallowed.) The amount of mercury gas in my mouth was extremely high after chewing for a few minutes, as tested using equipment to measure the mercury gas. Once removed, the metallic taste went away, never to return!

    2. J bray Avatar

      You can still have the front tooth remove dry and a dental implant put in front. Both Demi Moore and Jason Derulo has misshap with their front teeth, so 1 got an implant and the other got a removable bridge.

    3. Connie Kupiec Avatar
      Connie Kupiec

      Try oil pulls. They have helped me get rid of tooth pain. Look online for how to do it, But, you just use a “pulling oil” ( coconut oil is what I use, or olive oil or seseme oil are some choices), Hold a tablespoon of the oil in your mouth, swishing it around and getting as much as possible around the problem tooth. Keep it in your mouth for 10 minutes if you can. You can add one or two drops of peppermint oil or clove oil for extra benefit. (they are also “pulling agents”). Do NOT swallow. Spit it out in the trash so it doesn’t clog your drain. I use coconut oil with either 1 or 2 drops of peppermint oil. This has helped me a lot! It is Not a cure, but will draw out infection and at least buy you some time. Hope it helps you!

  6. Joel Gould Avatar
    Joel Gould

    There is nothing wrong with extracting a tooth, its your body. I want people to know that root canals are perfectly safe, and the misinformation of the move is very damaging to people who are influenced by it. The root cause of your dental disease is a vitamin D deficiency. its too late for most of the damaged teeth, but its not too late for you, vitamin D deficiency is one of the root causes of aging and cancer. There is no reason to be deficient, please supplement!
    Implants are safe, effective and an incredible treatment option for those who believe in appropriate modern science. Dentures work, and can be comfortable, but implants are superior in many ways, but not always possible

  7. Matt Alf Avatar
    Matt Alf

    I’ve had 7 root canals over 9 years. I’ve had chronic health problems when previously I had none. I believe my immune system could have dealt with the decay that I was being referred for. Causation is difficult to prove. One of my root canals got infected so bad that my face swelled up and I had to be hospitalized. The tooth was extracted. The dentist I was seeing was notified but kept pumping me to the endodontists. She said I had bad teeth and needed root canals. I told her I was highly allergic but in one ear and out the other. There should be health profile to determine who these procedures are appropriate for. Now I have earaches, lymph node swelling, congestion, joint pain, high blood sugar and cholesterol that I never had before root canals. Doctors refuse to see the link. I’m seriously considering having my 6 root canaled teeth removed…gradually.

  8. Karen Avatar

    I am glad you added these comments as that is exactly what I was thinking. I had bad psoriasis for years. It never occurred to me that it could be related to root canals. Then I read about the autoimmune connection. I have several root canals and am basically sick 9 months of the year. I have an appointment to talk to my dentist about pulling a couple of the RC teeth next month.

  9. Leslie spedding Avatar
    Leslie spedding

    Hi I had 2 root canels about 30 years ago my 2 front top teeth and for at least 20 years have had swelling in gum and tenderness I we went told at the time I was having root canels and on my recent 3d scan showing infections in both root canels and have suffered with tinnitus in both ears for many years and under my jaw feels a little swollen and tender is it safe to have these removed and implant fitted if you could please a0

  10. sarika Avatar

    What kind of crown would you say is safer, one made of porcelain or zirconium?

  11. Dr. Rafia Avatar
    Dr. Rafia

    Thank you so much for sharing the relevant information. I agree with all the pros & cons

  12. Sam Avatar

    Scary stuff, and I totally understand the concerns of having a root canal performed at a general dentist where they may not have the tools and technology to fully remove the pulp tissue which can breed bacteria, but what about endodontists? These people are surgeons who use photo-acoustic streaming (PTPS) lasers and microscopic tools to ensure that 99.99% of bacteria and pulp tissue is removed from the roots. Are we saying that it’s still better to go for extraction that trying this procedure which could save the tooth?

  13. Ajay K BAJAJ Avatar
    Ajay K BAJAJ

    Root canals are highly successful treatment for infected teeth. All organs have bacteria. All procedures have risks. Just because you have a choice to remove teeth, you remove them? Even cardiac stents have bacteria, will you rather prefer to die? Your knees are paining, so you will for and place knee implants? Useless article…

  14. Mary Avatar

    I had 4 root canals over 15 years. My newest one started giving me problems only when I had sugar or grains in my diet. So I stopped eating sugar and grains. Then I realized my gums were receding around all my root canal teeth. I went to a holistic dentist and got a 3D X-ray and my bottom root canal which caused me Zero pain had a HUGE infection.
    The others were all infected, this was why my gums were peeling back. I just had them all removed and am getting zirconium implants. I watched the root cause documentary and am so glad I had them removedz

  15. Nina Avatar

    Thank you for this article. It was very informative. I’m facing the possibility of a root canal because of a couple fillings poorly and unnecessarily done (There were no cavities) by a dentist I’ve long since left. He said he wanted to do “preventative work” and I was naive. It’s been a year a half since he drilled into my teeth and the two molars have still been sensitive. My childhood dentist, who I’ve been going back to, has been encouraging me to look into a root canal but I think i might insist on a crown, especially since there seems to be nothing wrong with those molars – no decay or cracks she can tell. It seems like she just wants to end the pain instead of getting to the root problem – but after reading this, I don’t want to kill the tooth for no reason. She just re-did the fillings with IRM, so hopefully that will calm the nerve so I don’t have to think about this. This is so frustrating because I’ve always taken good care of my teeth and just had poor dental work done!

  16. Joan Avatar

    I had a root canal a few years ago – absolutely miserable experience. My regular dentist sent me to a specialist who was rude, but apparantly an expert. Ever since, I have had periodic pain and aching in my jaw there, and sometimes the pain goes right down into my throat and ear. My dentist tells me that isn’t possible because the nerve is gone. Having read this, I think it is lingering infection that is causing the pain. I wouldn’t recommend this to anyone. I would rather lose a tooth than ever go through this again. Now I have to decide what to do next.

  17. George Belly Avatar
    George Belly

    I strongly feel that the feeling or imagination of a patient’s problem is directly proportional to the way a doctor explains or advice. If the doctor is positive towards the problem by his or her patients, the patient will be more relaxed and vice versa. This is also a great piece of information which I guess will be useful for dentists to handle their patients and patients to face their dental problems.

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