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Why Root Canals Fail, and What to Do About It

By Robyn Openshaw, MSW | Sep 12, 2018

Why Root Canal Infection is More Common Than You Think | Green Smoothie Girl

If you’ve undergone a root canal, you probably did so with both trepidation and gratitude: fear regarding the procedure and relief when the pain subsided! Let’s take a look at just what happened when you were sitting in the dentist’s chair, to learn why root canals often fail–and how holistic dentists can help clean up the toxic aftermath.

Illustration of what happens during Root Canals

Illustration of what happens during a Root Canal procedure.

Root Canal Procedure

The dentist drilled a hole in your tooth in order to expose the pulp cavity–the central chamber in your tooth that contains the nerve, blood and lymphatic tissue that supplies your tooth with life-giving oxygen and nutrients. Tiny files were then used to remove the contents of this cavity.

Once all tissue was removed, the canal was flushed with chemicals (bleach, essentially) designed to kill any remaining bacteria. Your tooth was then filled with a material, usually a rubber-like substance called gutta percha, and then sealed in an effort to minimize the chance of re-infection. Because your tooth is now essentially dead, making it brittle and prone to a fracture, a crown is placed over the tooth.

The good news is: Without the nerve, you will no longer feel pain. The bad news is: It is impossible to completely sterilize a root canal-treated tooth. The bacteria that remain then begin to set up colonies and the tooth becomes infected, resulting in a failed root canal.

In order to understand why most root canals fail, we need to share a brief review of the anatomy of your tooth.

Why does your tooth make it hard to perform a successful root canal?

  • Each of your teeth have anywhere from one to four roots in separate canals, and each of those canals may have accessory canals, some of which branch off horizontally.
Root canals can be difficult to treat. Illustration of six different teeth with curved root canals.

Root canals are not always straight; many of them are curved.

  • These canals are not always straight, in fact, many of them are curved. You can see from this image the many curves a root canal can take.
  • The dentin is the seemingly hard material between the enamel and the canal, and it is made up of millions of tiny tubules that, if you placed end-to-end in just one tooth, would span approximately three miles. These tubules exist to transport nutrients from the center of your tooth to the enamel.

It is this anatomy that makes it all but impossible to “sterilize” a tooth, though many traditional dentists suggest otherwise.

So, why do root canals fail?

While traditional dentists and endodontists (dentists that specialize in root canal procedures) generally report a success rate greater than 90 percent, a report in General Dentistry disagrees. “This study of PBRN (practice-based research networks) suggests a higher failure rate than reported from studies in highly-controlled environments…”

Part of the high rate of success is due to the definition: A tooth that survives for eight years in the mouth after having a root canal performed on it and, in addition, shows no external signs of infection.

But what’s happening internally?

If you define a failed root canal as one that still has a bacterial infection, most holistic or biological dentists will agree that almost all root canals fail, as all of mine did. Let’s take a look at why natural dentists believe root canals simply don’t work.

  • It’s essentially impossible to clean out all of those curved canals and miles of dentin that we previously discussed. Because of this, dentists use chemicals designed to disinfect the tooth. Not only is it difficult for the disinfectant to make it through each canal that may have infected matter in it, the miles of dentin tubules are covered by cementum–a bony layer of connective tissue that is difficult to penetrate. Bacteria populations that remain begin to recolonize and it is not long before they have established residence inside your tooth once again.
  • Because your tooth no longer receives blood, nerve and lymphatic supply and is, therefore, essentially dead–there is no immune response available should an infection start to take hold.
  • Root canals are, unfortunately, perfect hosts for anaerobic bacteria–the type of bacteria that thrive in oxygen depleted environments and produce some of the most powerful toxins known to man.

Dr. Weston Price tested thousands of teeth in the early 1900s. He demonstrated that all the extracted root canal-treated teeth he tested had pathogenic microbes and toxins.In addition, he found that they were impossible to disinfect.

What’s truly remarkable is that he was unable to disinfect teeth that had already been extracted. Imagine the difficulty, then, of trying to disinfect teeth that are in someone’s mouth!3

More recently, Hal Huggins, DDS used DNA technology in order to identify multiple bacteria in root canal-treated teeth. This type of technology makes it much easier to identify anaerobic bacteria which can be difficult to culture and which was not available to Dr. Price a century ago.

What happens to the recolonizing bacteria?

Porphyromonas gingivalis bacteria, 3D illustration. Anaerobic bacteria that cause periodontal disease

Anaerobic bacteria thrive in an oxygen-depleted environment, and they produce extremely toxic and lethal substances known as exotoxins.

Because the oxygen-providing blood supply is removed in a root canal-treated tooth, most of the bacteria that survive are called anaerobic. Of the 150 different bacterial strains found to be present in the pulp chamber of teeth, all but five are anaerobic.4

These types of bacteria thrive in an oxygen-depleted environment, and they produce extremely toxic and lethal substances known as exotoxins. There are several types of exotoxins that you are probably familiar with, including diphtheria, botulinum and tetanus cholera toxins.

These exotoxins find their way into your bloodstream where they have a selective predisposition to certain tissues. According to a study reported in Clinical Microbiology Reviews, blood drawn from patients following a root canal revealed that all of their blood contained anaerobic bacteria.

Even more alarming? Just one minute after an oral procedure, bacteria from the infected site may reach the heart and lungs. And, when they find a favorable site, they begin to multiply.

Diseases associated with this process include cardiovascular disease that can lead to a heart attack or stroke; lung infections that can lead to pneumonia and asthma; and diabetes with complications that can include problems with the eyes, nervous system and kidneys.5

These toxins and bacteria have also been linked to a host of other diseases including Alzheimer’s, arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease and cancer.3

Sick & Tired? Dental Work May be the Culprit

What can you do about a failed root canal?

Because the nerve is no longer in a root canal-treated tooth, you will be unable to feel the pain associated with an infection. For this reason, we recommend that if you have a tooth that has been treated in this matter, set up a visit with a holistic or biological dentist who can evaluate it.

According to Mark A. Breiner, DDS, author of Whole-Body Dentistry, EAV (also known as electro-acupuncture according to Voll) is invaluable for evaluating toxins and toxic levels in different organs and tissues. If possible, choose a natural dentist who is knowledgeable in this area as well.

Illustration of a dental bridge

There are several alternatives that a dentist will offer you should they recommend an extraction of your root canal-treated tooth…including a dental bridge or implant.

There are several alternatives that a dentist will offer you should they recommend an extraction of your root canal-treated tooth. This includes leaving the space open if it is a tooth located in the back of your mouth.

Other options to consider will be a removable partial denture, a permanently fixed bridge, or an implant. When considering these alternatives, be sure that the dentist performs biocompatibility testing to ensure that the materials used in your dental procedures cause the least response from your immune system.

In order to help you in your search for a well-informed holistic dentist, we have developed a complimentary guide: the Holistic Dentist Finder. It’s our way of helping you achieve the ultimate in health and wellness.


Robyn Openshaw, MSW, is the bestselling author of The Green Smoothies Diet, 12 Steps to Whole Foods, and 2017’s #1 Amazon Bestseller and USA Today Bestseller, Vibe.




Why Root Canals Fail | Green Smoothie Girl

This article may contain affiliate links, which allows you to support our mission (as well as demonstrate market demand for safer products) without costing you extra.

This article was reviewed and approved by Dr. Michelle Jorgensen, DDS, FAGD, TNC, and dental advisor for GreenSmoothieGirl.com. The information included here is not a replacement for professional diagnosis or treatment; please consult a holistic dental professional.


1. Gilbert, Gregg H. et al. Outcomes of root canal treatment in Dental PBRN practices. General Dentistry. 01/2010. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2819000/

2. Rotstein, I. et al. Endodontic treatment outcomes in a large patient population in the USA: an epidemiological study. Journal of Endodontics. 12/2004.

3. Kulacz, Robert, DDS et al. The Toxic Tooth. MedFox Publishing. 2014.

4. Huggins, Hal A. et al. Uninformed Consent. Hampton Roads Publishing Company. 1999.

5. Li, Xiaojing et al. Systemic Diseases Caused by Oral Infection. Clinical Microbiology Reviews. 10/2000. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC88948/

6. Beriner, Mark A. DDS. Whole-Body Dentistry. Quantum Health Press. 2011.

7. Kato, Akiko et al. Three-dimensional imaging of internal tooth structures: Applications in dental education. Journal of Oral Biosciences. 08/2016. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S134900791630038X

8. Huggins, Hal DDS. Root Canal Dangers. Dr. David Howard. http://www.davidhoward.com.au/resources/article23.html

Posted in: Biological Dentistry, Healthy Mouth Healthy Life

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