Endodontic Myths Debunked: The Focal Infection Theory And Root Canal Treatments

Endodontists across Australia successfully carry out thousands of root canal treatments every year, helping patients deal with serious dental problems. Nonetheless, unfounded theories about the risks of these treatments remain relatively common online, particularly in relation to a theory known as focal infection. Learn more about how this theory relates to root canal treatments, and find out what modern scientists say about focal infection.

The focal infection theory

The focal infection theory gained widespread popularity in the early 1900s, largely thanks to the research that Dr Weston A. Price published. Price published research that suggested that a root canal treatment could release harmful bacteria found inside dental tubules inside the tooth. If this happened, Price concluded that the bacteria could then invade other parts of the body and cause serious health problems like arthritis, kidney disease and heart disease.

Price wasn't the first scientist to make this claim, and researchers had already suggested that oral sepsis could go on to cause various diseases. However, when he published the research, Price was the chairman of the American Dental Association's research section, so his findings were highly influential in the field.

How the focal infection theory influenced dentistry

Dr Weston Price's research drew the conclusion that root canal treatments were a dangerous way to tackle infections and dental problems. Instead, Price advocated tooth extraction as a way to deal with existing systemic disease and as a preventive measure against future problems.

Price's application of the focal infection theory led to an era when tooth extractions were the treatment of choice for many dentists. Some dentists extracted almost any tooth that showed signs of disease, and a lot of dentists removed healthy teeth. In fact, some dentists even suggested that the authorities should criminalise root canal treatments.

Debunking the myth

Dentists now know that there is no valid, scientific evidence to link root canal treatments with disease elsewhere in the body. Many people criticised Dr Price's research as soon as he published his findings, but it took several decades before opinion shifted. In 1951, the Journal of the American Dental Association published a special edition that reviewed Price's findings and shifted thinking back in favour of root canal treatments.

Today, studies have repeatedly proven the benefits of the procedure. For example, one study in 2013 showed that endodontic treatments actually cut the risk of cancer by 45 percent.

The focal infection theory suggested that root canal treatments could cause diseases elsewhere in the body, but modern science rejects this thinking. Talk to your dentist or endodontist for more advice.