ROOT CANALS & THE ORAL-BODY CONNECTION
Written By Alireza Panahpour, DDS
The fact that your mouth is connected to the rest of you seems obvious. Look at any anatomy book. Even better, look at a 3D anatomy app like Visible Body. A quick glance shows you that the mouth is connected to everything.
The mouth is the entrance to the gastrointestinal tract. Toxic dental mercury and bad bacteria from gum disease or an infected root canal can enter your stomach and intestines via the mouth. Let me give you an example of how dentistry can affect the mouth-stomach connection. Mercury-free dentists know from the pioneering work of Hal Huggins, DDS that if mercury enters the stomach, it can weaken stomach acid (mercury + HCL = mercuric chloride which can damage the stomach lining and the stomach’s ability to produce HCL). Stomach acid usually keeps food-borne pathogens and bad bacteria from mouth infections from entering the intestines. Weak stomach HCL therefore makes it easier for pathogenic bacteria, parasites, and amoebas to get inside us and challenge our immunity. Inadequate stomach acid also can cause indigestion and heartburn. Millions of Americans take antacids for indigestion. But if low HCL is the cause, antacids can worsen the situation. It’s a viscous circle—mercury poisoning lowers stomach acid causing indigestion, taking antacids for indigestion lowers stomach acid even more, causing the body to become more acidic in a desperate attempt to create more stomach acid, eventually causing a chronic state of acidosis in which the body pulls minerals from the teeth and bones to balance the blood pH. One result is that your teeth can’t remineralize properly, and start to decay.
The mouth is also connected to the nervous system, the circulatory system, and the lymphatic system (which is really part of the immune system), and the hormonal system. Spend some time looking at 3D images in Visible Body in the area of the head, neck, and chest, and you will see how interrelated the structures are. Nerves run from each tooth into the jaw, and from the jaw up into a big circuit where the jaw meets the ear. That circuit connects into the brain and also down the cervical spine into a superhighway of nerves that wind down into the neck and chest. Likewise veins and arteries connect the mouth to the brain above, and below to the neck, heart, and lungs. The lymphatic system drains down from the mouth into the neck, chest, and breasts. In addition, the mouth sits in close proximity to the delicate thyroid gland situated just below the mouth in front of the throat, and the pituitary, and pineal glands situated above and behind the sinuses in the brain. The thyroid controls cell metabolism, body weight, hair growth, and body temperature. The pituitary gland (called the master gland) coordinates all other endocrine glands. The pineal gland produces and regulates serotonin and melatonin.
Given that the mouth and body are so intricately interconnected, you can understand how dangerous it is to tolerate chronic infections in the mouth from an infected root canal or improperly extracted wisdom tooth. Focal infections like this in tooth sockets in the jaw can spread pathogenic microbes around the body. The pathogens can move with blood circulation, or drain in the lymphatic pathways, or even grow along nerve pathways from the jaw to other parts of the body. I’ve seen that in my practice: a biofilm of pathogens wrapped around the trigeminal nerve, working its way toward the trigeminal ganglion. Not surprisingly in this case, the patient had been diagnosed with a neurological disorder. Both bacteria and viruses can hang out in neural pathways during times of dormancy. Bacteria move around the body by colonizing a pathway, then creating sub-colonies that break off to travel to other locations. As I said, strokes are a major concern in situations like this, as are heart problems. Also neurodegenerative diseases are a serious concern.
Given that the mouth and body are so intricately interconnected, you also can understand how dangerous it is to have toxic dental materials in your mouth. Imagine mercury leaching from mercury amalgam fillings every day for years, or even decade. Do you think that could affect the thyroid gland in your throat? I think the answer is obvious. Mercury that is swallowed can also affect the pancreas, the gland that makes insulin, and eventually the kidneys that are home to the adrenal glands. Above the mouth are the sinuses where intra-oral mercury vapor would enter, before being breathed down into the lungs. Bad bacteria in the mouth also can enter the sinuses. Behind the sinuses inside the brain sit the pituitary gland (called the master gland because it coordinates all other endocrine glands) and slightly above and behind the pituitary gland hangs the pineal gland (producer of serotonin and melatonin, regulator of mood and sleep).
Once you realize that everything is connected, you can begin to see how dental practices can affect the whole person. Chronic tooth socket infections from infected root canals are a common example of the mouth-body connection that dental schools need to teach more about. Dentists need to be more aware of the danger of tolerating a chronic focal infection in the jaw. It will tax anyone’s immune system to try to fight that infection day after day. It is really not safe. Dentists need to assess digital images of root canals carefully. Wisdom tooth extraction sites need to be assessed also. We know how connected periodontal disease is to cardiovascular disease, including coronary artery disease, and strokes. While gum disease can be seen with the naked eye, a focal infection in the jaw is harder to see but also can affect the entire body. Dentists need to be alert to the possibility of a cavitation infection especially if a patient is struggling immunologically. That’s a sign of a possible chronic infection. It could be something like Lyme disease. But it could also be a chronic infection in the mouth.
I think it’s so important that patients also be able to recognize the signs of an infected root canal or other jaw infection. Chronic oral infections can raise your risk of a variety of illnesses, not just stroke and cardiovascular problems, but also rheumatoid arthritis, diabetes, respiratory infections, some cancers, and pregnancy problems. If you have a root canal and you are having any of these issues, you need to make sure that root canal is not infected where the root attaches to the jaw. You need to take action; don’t wait until you have a healing crisis or chronic disease diagnosis, or a stroke. You need a good dentist who knows how to check because, as I said, an infection in the jaw may not be visible to the naked eye.
In my practice, I have experienced an association between breast cancer and chronic jaw infections from root canals or wisdom tooth extractions. Over time, the physicians I team up with were 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.
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 don’t cover it.
When I looked at the hot and cold areas of the body in the thermography pictures of the breast cancer 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 that were draining via the lymphatic system straight into the breast area. Repeatedly, digital x-rays confirmed the presence of chronic jaw infections in tooth sockets of root canals. Other times the infection was located in a botched wisdom tooth extraction site. Thermography allowed me to locate infection in the jaw of these breast cancer patients that their doctors couldn’t find, even though blood tests clearly indicated an infection somewhere in the body
Could these chronic focal bacterial infections in the jaw have caused the patients’ breast cancers? Not directly. But indirectly, perhaps. 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 tumors and the inability of the immune system to trigger cell death in tumor cells.
When I find an infection in the jaw of a patient who has a chronic illness, I work with the patient’s medical doctor to determine if the patient is strong enough to undergo a dental procedure, such as removing an infected root canal, or cleaning out an old wisdom tooth cavitation. If it’s an infected wisdom tooth extraction site, I do a cavitation surgery to clean out the focal infection in the jaw. If it’s an infected root canal, I remove it properly, meaning non-traumatically, and leave behind nothing that might attract bacterial infection in the future (like tooth ligaments or shards of tooth). Both of these procedures can provide immediate relief to a patient’s overtaxed immune system. Usually, I see immediate improvements in health across the entire body-mind.
However, if the immune and lymphatic systems have degenerated to a certain point, the surgery itself may be too taxing for the patient. Timing of oral surgery for an infected root canal or infected cavitation site is crucial. Also the patient’s preparation for the procedure is crucial. So first, I have to ask myself, the patient, and the medical doctor if a small surgery to remove the focal infection can be tolerated. Blood testing is needed to determine if the patient’s blood factors are showing a strong enough immune system to accommodate the cavitation surgery, in which I open up the gum and jaw to get to the infected tooth socket and thoroughly clean it out so that it can heal properly. If the patient is so “locked” that treatment must be delayed, then we may have to help the patient build strength first by addressing his or her congested lymphatic system and giving nutritional support to bolster immunity. Doing so helps to prevent the patient from “crashing” after surgery–feeling tired and depleted and more susceptible to infection.
On my end, I can offer patients lots of resources: intravenous (IV) support with vitamins, minerals, and homeopathic remedies; oxygen therapy; dental acupuncture; ozone therapy; laser therapy; nutritional supplements; and neural therapy. I can also refer patients for a craniosacral adjustment or manual lymphatic drainage to help patients prepare for the shift from state A to state B.
When patients are properly prepared, the shift can be dramatic. The day after oral surgery, most of my patients come back for follow-up saying that they took only 1 ibuprofen dose and had minimal pain, minimal swelling, and a better sense of smell, feeling noticeably better, and more energetic. All in 1 day! They often start having memories and will say things like, “I remember years ago when I had my wisdom teeth removed that I had horrible swelling and bruising that lasted for days. Why don’t I have swelling and bruising now?”
Swelling and bruising happened because the surgery was traumatic. When I perform surgery to amputate a wisdom tooth, or a root canal tooth, I am careful to the best of my ability to minimize the trauma to that area. Sometimes I section the tooth, allowing me to more gently lift out each root. No tooth shards can be created, no violent force can be used, and no tooth ligaments can be left—that is the ideal scenario.
Please be aware, in regard to impacted wisdom teeth extractions, that severely impacted wisdom teeth can be quite a challenge, in spite of everyone’s best efforts. If you think you have impacted wisdom teeth, please don’t wait too long to see a good dentist. The more impacted, the harder it is to remove without trauma.
Obviously, people can become overwhelmed dealing year after year, even decade after decade, with chronic infections in the jaw from infected root canals or infected wisdom tooth extraction sites. 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.
CASE STORY: BREAST CANCER AND INFECTED ROOT CANALS
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 Bahamas 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 did everything her doctors 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, and her thermography report showed hot spots where her six root canals were draining infection into her system. 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.
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, 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, 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 and homeopathic remedies around the infected dead teeth in order to sterilize the infected areas and give her immune system a break. Of course, 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’s 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 sometimes she wouldn’t make it 30 days. 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.
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 an 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 didn’t want to risk another bout of cancer.
©Alireza Panahpour, DDS. All rights reserved by the author. Excerpted from The Good Dentist, published by The Healist Books, 2014.