By Joanna Kostin (class of 2021)
It’s uncommon to see dentistry featured in a media, but a recent documentary called “Root Cause” that has been released on several streaming outlets such as Netflix, Apple, Vimeo, and Amazon has pushed dentistry and scientific research into the limelight. The premise of this documentary is based on research from the 1920’s linking root canals to an increased risk of breast cancer and heart disease. In addition to being out of date, the claims mentioned in the film are not justifiable by fact. These claims arose due to a study that surveyed a group of women who had breast cancer and found that most of them to also have root canals. These researchers concluded that the endodontic procedure must have caused the cancer, ignoring many other variables.
Root canals are a very common procedure; 15.1 million root canals are performed each year. If one were to sample a group of people, especially those who are older, one’s chances of finding the majority of them to have root canals is also very high. One would probably also find a large percentage of older people to suffer from different health problems such as hypertension. This survey study connecting breast cancer to root canals could have easily also accused root canals of causing hypertension and a laundry list of other systemic diseases common in older adults, but this is not valid scientific application.
Though many will be able to see through the faulty research, many people who may not be versed in valid research practice or medicine may watch the documentary such as this one and believe it; it is a documentary after all, a lot of research must have gone into it and if big streaming sites support it, it must be true. As of late many streaming sites have begun to remove documentaries of medical concepts that are not based on fact and may be harmful to public health. Netflix has removed “Root Cause” from its site, however the other streaming sites have not. While some cite freedom of speech as an argument against the removal of these documentaries, some may fail to consider that the spread of misinformation and baseless claims due to poorly conducted research could be potentially harmful to public health.