Root Canal: Dangerous or Just Misunderstood?

Katie Wells Avatar

Reading Time: 7 minutes

This post contains affiliate links.

Read my affiliate policy.

Wellness Mama » Blog » Health » Root Canal: Dangerous or Just Misunderstood?

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.
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. Shannon Avatar

    My question is how do we detox if we think root canal toxins are leaching or have leached into our systems?

  2. patrick radcliff Avatar
    patrick radcliff

    I am 73 years old and have many root canals. 5 years ago I nearly died from an abscessed root canal. I developed a severe fever, went through extensive and often painful testing at two hospitals looking for the cause of the fever. None of the tests produced any results except a skull scan showed inflammation in a tooth. I had no pain in the tooth because it had been root canaled. The inflammation ceased immediately upon removal of the tooth.
    Now, I have another abscessed root canaled tooth.

  3. Sarah Taylor Avatar
    Sarah Taylor

    Hello, I have stumbled on this blog, thank you for taking the time to look in to this. I have been fighting a low immune, suppressed adrenal glands and often am fighting multiple viruses at one time, swollen occipital lymph nodes, rashes, etc. Upon working with my acupuncturist and functional medicine Dr.’s it occurs to me, the problems seemed to “start” after a raging infection and required root canal.

    Wondering if the tooth is still holding bacteria and causing ALL the issues above. I am on a restricted diet and have spent years working on healing my body…. Has anyone ever removed a tooth that has had a root canal and found their immune recovered?

  4. Lance Avatar

    All total ‘fear-mongering’ aside, you DO realize that it is quite possible many cavities which are filled have the same mechanical ‘function’ as a root canal, right? The enamel is drilled, sometimes to the point that the ‘pulp’ or nerve is exposed, prior to the filling being installed. Though this isn’t intended, it DOES happen, far more than you might think. AND, whether you know it or not, the bacteria has NO PROBLEM (and actually likes eating on) the inner components of the tooth, under the enamel (such as the pulp and calcium structure which surrounds the tasty nerve itself). So, in-fact, a cavity filling is 60% or so, of the same threat a root canal is – and there is ONLY A FEW fixes for teeth at this point (fill, remove, remove-and-replace). As for ‘cleanliness of filling or root canal’, most ‘modern doctors’ use UV light and an ‘absolute sterilizing agent’ (that tastes god-awful nasty for DAYS) to ensure the cavity (or tooth nerve channel) is clean before filling. Combined with antibiotics, the bacteria IS destroyed before filling…might want to check with a dentist on these topics, before saying different.
    Oh, and about that price for the ‘alternatives’: I just had a root canal with endo and a crown…$2,700. Stud with false replacement was going to be $6,400. Bridge was going to be $2,200 (removable bridge…complete with perpetually germ-covered stainless steel wiring), and due to it being a rear molar, there was NO OPTION for ‘denture’. You cannot just ‘PULL A TOOTH’ (unless it is an ‘end-line’ tooth, such as the farthest back molar, etc.)…as the other teeth pulled will ‘lay down’ quickly, and usually cause one or more to become ‘post-set empacted’ (something that you’d really rather not EVER happen!…unless you like lots of dental surgery).
    Have you ever realized, that the example of the rabbit study you gave is actually a prime example of ‘leaving the tooth alone’ is what causes the heart attacks, not the removal of it? You put a DISEASED TOOTH into a healthy rabbit, and it had a heart attack…now, try this test with taking that sick rabbit, take the tooth out of him, ROOT CANAL that diseased tooth, put it back in the test rabbit, and see if he doesn’t get better…
    The root canal is a repairative procedure…not a life-threatening one. Leaving disease there is life threatening!

  5. CP Avatar

    Thanks for posting. Cavities are not the only reason to have a root canal, however. I just suffered a traumatic jaw/dental injury from a bike accident, and my dentist/OMFS are telling me that multiple root canals are likely because of the injury to my teeth. I’ve never had any issues like this before and didn’t anticipate ever needing a root canal. Oh, life! So now I’m researching alternatives. The thought of losing my teeth is hard, but I don’t want to inadvertently contribute to poor health by clinging to my own vanity haha…

    1. CSue Avatar

      I’m in the same boat. I’ve had 3 upper front die from trauma after jaw surgery, and those all have root canals. Now a 4th hurts all the time so I am looking for alternatives. I just did a cone beam scan and the dentist said it isn’t infected, but that probably the nerve is dying. I know those roots are long and lost blood flow in the surgery. He is recommending root canal of course. I told him I’d like to just pull them all and get implants, which he also does. I know some people think those aren’t any better, but it seems like they’d have to be somewhat better. Anyway he said it would be tough because my jawbone is thin there. Damn. I’m too young for dentures because my gums would recede too much over my lifetime. I just hope science comes up with some better solutions.

  6. Matt Avatar

    Of the two pieces of research cited, one contains major methodological flaws and was performed by a proponent of focal infection theory almost a century ago. The other was performed by a doctor of chemistry, not dentistry or medicine, who also happens to be a a major supporter of the anti-vaccination movement. Quality stuff.

    1. MIl Avatar

      So do you think root canal is safe? Do you can tell me links of reaseach to show it? Cause i feel worried right now about this pro and cons about root canal, thx

  7. Lori Avatar

    What is your take on ozone therapy when removing root canals? Many thanks.

  8. Laurie Avatar

    My dentist is sending me to a specialist to see if I need a root canal. I think they’ll say I do. My dentist is very versed on oral health and nutrition, etc., but she does believe in root canals.
    I’m a public speaker and really can’t go without a tooth so I feel like I have to do something. I already struggle with inflammation and stress.
    Has anyone had the alternatives mentioned in this article?

  9. Jane Avatar

    I had a root canal put in 12 years ago. For years I have had inflammation, swelling and pain in both my body and at the root canal site. When investigating the route of alternative solutions, I have thought about having a tooth implant. I didn’t like the idea of putting a metal post inside my body, as a person’s body could potentially react to the metal. Several of my friends have reacted to metal used by medical professionals for various procedures. I have found one company that sells a 100% ceramic implant and 100% ceramic post (CeraRoot). I’m hoping that this will finally bring relief to my mouth and my body.

  10. Khurram Avatar

    Dr. Weston’s study has been labeled as poorly designed to promote extraction. you are still basing your article on his studies in 2018?

  11. Serenity Avatar

    What about root canals due to accidents?
    Whe I was younger I fell off my bike and chipped my front tooth. Ive had several dentists tell me that I need a root canal. I always refuse. Mainly because, all praise and thanks to God, I have no pain.
    Should I just get the tooth taken out?And what kind of “fake” tooth is “healthy”? And how much would it cost? If you think I shouldn’t take it out, what should I do to prevent future problems? Oil pulling?
    I’m already paleo/primal btw

  12. charlotte Avatar

    “This bears repeating. 25% of the teeth Dr. Haley studied contained a toxin stronger than the strongest toxin known to humans…”
    This makes no sense at all. It’s like saying 25% of sounds travel faster than sound. So if it’s stronger than the strongest toxin known, surely that IS the new strongest toxin known. That really is serious fear mongering science right there.

  13. Angie Avatar

    Yikes, thanks for this post… I am so at a loss. I had a very VERY difficult pregnancy that caused me to be sick all day & night. It’s caused my main top 2 molar’s to be completely destroyed from the constant sickness… Now I’m at a crossroad. My dentist thinks I am mental when I say pull them LOL, so she still hasn’t… This was very helpful, I hope I make the right decision 🙂 xo THANKS

  14. Jennifer Avatar

    I completely agree that root canals are horrible for you. In 2003 I had a root canal done and 2 weeks later I developed Guillain-Barre Syndrome and was partially paralyzed for 6 months. I was not sick otherwise or had any vaccines the only thing was the infected tooth and root canal and had been on antibiotics before and after, the Drs said that is only thing they can contribute to me getting GBS. 2013, I had a molar get infected under an old mercury filling and again told root canal was my only option to save the tooth and they assured me that there is no way my previous one could’ve caused GBS. They gave me no other options and said my ability to chew depended on saving it. I got the root canal and then the tooth broke and had to be extracted anyway. I was also on antibiotics too. 2 weeks later I got Bacterial Meningitis and almost didn’t survive but thankfully I did. After that I was convinced root canals were the cause of both. I now will only see a holistic (biological) dentist.

  15. Laura Avatar

    My G-d! I never knew. My mouth is full of root canals and implants. Thank you so much for the information. It’s amazing what you’ve learned. Laura

  16. Sam Avatar

    I have a hard time believing these myths that root canals destroy your health. There are many underlying undiagnosed problems people have that contribute to poor health such as sleep apnea. I have had several root canals all in the back teeth. I refuse to have any missing teeth. My mother had a root canal done in the 1960’s and my dad had one a few decades ago with minimal to no health problems to date.

    1. Sue Nelson Avatar
      Sue Nelson

      Consider the following statistics, Sam………..currently, 1 in 2 men will have cancer and 1 in 2 1/2 women will have cancer: currently, 96-98% of women that have breast cancer already have root canals in their mouth! Root canals are never clean – they are always infected inside the tubules. Your immune system and the quality of your lifestyle will dictate how many your body can tolerate without developing cancer – it is only a matter of time! Why add substantial risk to the equation??

  17. Megan Avatar

    Last year my husband was suffering from neck pain. The pain continued for months. He developed a sore throat and extremely swollen glad. He developed a fever. The md could not determine what was wrong. He was given a steroid. On the Saturday he spiked the fever he mentioned a slightly bad taste when he chewed gum. I could not reach the md so II called our dentist. Eventually, my husband asked that he remove the crown and the tooth which he had a root canal on. It had cysts and upon its removal his health improved dramatically!

  18. Karen J Avatar

    I am a healthy 52 Year old female. I take no medication, I eat a natural snd healthy balanced diet. I suffered a blow to rhe face Many years ago an 4 of my upper fron teeth were fractured off to the gum line. Implants were not main stream ant the time and in my opinion i was too young for a removable partial. Root canals were completed in order to place a post and core build up in each tooth and beautiful all ceramic crown were placed. My teeth did not have deacy nor were they infected. I wonder if that could be different from what the research showing all the negatives about root canals

  19. Shauna McLeod Avatar
    Shauna McLeod

    We were told my 13 year old needed a root canal. X-ray didn’t confirm the problem. Exam was tapping to tooth with a few instruments. Pain only when chewing on that side. Given antibiotics 3x day. On day 3 we were to call back with pain or no pain results. She didn’t have the pain so they scheduled for a root canal. No exam from the dentist himself. He just looked at the X-ray and without 100% certainty he started the antibiotic. My guy says cancel the appointment and get a second opinion and consider having the tooth pulled. A wisdom tooth is pushing against the tooth with pain. We at home all think that could be the culprit. She’s not had swelling, pain the jaw or gum in and around that tooth. Any advice would be appreciated. Medical history of family myself and her older sister have Lupus, there hereditary heart disease acoorsing to cardiologist of grandmother, thyroid disease and diabetes. Thanks for any advice.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *