Martin S. Spiller, DMD, Family Dentistry in Townsend, MA
NO!! Teeth are not, in general, connected with any systemic diseases with one exception. Read this whole article for the complete scoop.
In 1900, the British physician William Hunter wrote an article in the British Medical Journal entitled "Oral Sepsis as a Cause of Disease". The article accused "conservative dentistry" (the preservation of the dentition by dental treatment) as the cause of a huge number of systemic diseases including arthritis, neuritis, myalgia, nephritis, osteomyelitis, endocarditis, brain abscess, skin abscess, pneumonia, asthma, anemia, indigestion, gastritis, pancreatitis, colitis, diabetes, emphysema, goiter, thyroiditis, Hodgkin’s disease, obscure fever (fever of unknown origin), and nervous diseases of all kinds. Hunter believed that the repair of teeth with gold crowns created "A perfect gold trap of sepsis of which the patient is the proud owner and no persuasion will induce him to part with it, for it cost him much money and it covers his black and decayed teeth." Hunter was not propounding anything especially new. The theory that "bad teeth" were the underlying cause of numerous systemic diseases had been well established long before Hunter wrote his famous paper.
The history of blaming teeth for human disease has a very long history going back to Hippocrates who is said to have reported the cure of arthritis after the removal of a tooth. Today, such diseases as chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia, lupus, multiple sclerosis, and Alzheimer's disease are mistakenly blamed on "bad" teeth.
Hunter's theories were later codified by Weston A. Price, D.D.S. (1870-1948). Price studied primitive cultures and concluded that "modern civilization" was the cause of ill health and that people living in primitive conditions were actually healthier than modern people. His examination of the primitive cultures in question were quite superficial, and his conclusions were simplistic ignoring such statistics as their short life expectancy, high rates of infant mortality, endemic diseases, and malnutrition. Price also performed poorly designed studies that led him to conclude that teeth treated with root canal therapy leaked bacteria or bacterial toxins into the body, causing all sorts of dreaded diseases including those attributed by Hunter to the theory of Oral Sepsis. Research studies performed in the 1930s and 1940s and those conducted in later years showed no relationship between the presence of endodontically treated teeth and the presence of illness. Instead, researchers found that people with root canal fillings were no more likely to be ill than people without them.
The technical name for the theory that encouraged souls in previous eras to blame systemic diseases on the presence of bad teeth is the "theory of anachoresis" (pronounced "ana-co-ree-sis"), or the "theory of focal infection". According to this theory, an infection in or around a tooth (the "focus of infection") could theoretically be carried by the bloodstream to other parts of the body. Originally, the hypothesis that a bad tooth could cause cancer or other systemic diseases was based on ancient holistic theories of medicine and "proven" by anecdotal evidence (the occasional case that seemed to confirm the theory). In the early 1800s, Benjamin Rush, an American physician and signer of the Declaration of Independence, is said to have observed the cure of a case of arthritis of the hip by tooth extraction.
The theory of focal infection probably reached its apotheosis in the 1920's, between the two world wars, when huge numbers of people were subjected to full mouth extraction of all their teeth, as well as removal of various "unnecessary" organs in order to cure every imaginable disease. One example of "research" in this area is on display in this excerpt from an essay on Victorian insane asylums in England, many of which were still in operation as late as the 1980's. Here, the emphasis was on curing madness:
"Attempts at cures were often more desperate than well-advised. One of the asylums of my city had the best-equipped operating theater of its time, where an enthusiastic psychiatrist partially eviscerated his patients and also removed all their teeth, on the theory that madness was caused by a chronic but undetected and subclinical infection (called “focal sepsis”) in the organs that he removed." (Click here to read this excellent--and long--essay by Theodore Dalrymple.)
Most of the applications of the theory of focal infection were disproved with the emerging science of the 1930's and 1940's. The reasons for the demise of the theory are as follows:
Science was never able to prove that the theory of focal infection was actually valid. Numerous instances of anecdotal evidence (the occasional case that seemed to confirm the theory) had been used for centuries to prove the theory of focal infection, but very few scientifically controlled experiments were carried out. In the limited number that were, the theory's advocates were never able to prove any linkage between teeth and systemic disease. As a result, they remained wedded to anecdotal proof. It is now generally accepted among the scientific community that anecdotal evidence is not a valid approach in scientific research.
When the offending tooth, teeth or organ was removed, patients rarely were cured of their disease, as promised by the proponents of the theory of focal infection. This eliminated much of the credibility of the theory.
Sometimes, the disease would actually be exacerbated (made worse) by the removal of the supposed focus of infection.
Improvement in dental care greatly reduced the incidence of widespread dental disease in the general population reducing the popularity of blaming bad teeth for systemic disease.
The advent of antibiotics largely eliminated much of the mortality associated with dental infections. This, along with improved overall dental health in the general population eliminated much of the anger that many people once directed toward their diseased teeth and reduced the previously widespread desire to have them all extracted and replaced with dentures.
The list of diseases that were supposedly caused by bad teeth kept shrinking as the true causes of these diseases were discovered over the course of time.
The unfavorable reaction to the "orgy" of dental extractions and tonsillectomies that were advocated by the proponents of the theory eventually undermined the trust of the population. From approximately the end of the nineteenth century up until shortly after WWII, millions of perfectly healthy people lost their perfectly healthy teeth due to the theory that early extraction would prevent numerous diseases later in life, and also because it was extremely lucrative for the surgeons who extracted the teeth, and the dentists who made the dentures.
Growing up in the 1950's, I once asked my grandmother, already quite old at the time, why she had false teeth. (The image to the right is of my grandparents in their nineties.) She told me that they were all extracted when she was 16 because of "pyorrhea". Pyorrhea is another term for gum disease, and knowing what I know today, I realize that sixteen year old kids don't lose their teeth to gum disease. My grandmother was another innocent victim of the ignorance of nineteenth and early twentieth century medical quackery!
The theory of focal infection is kept alive today by the American legal tort system (lawyers using junk science to turn a profit), the holistic health movement, and even by a relatively small number of dentists who rely on these debunked theories to sell holistic (spa) dentistry to wealthy patrons. Dentists selling these services generally are true believers. "The patient's ills can be cured if the offending teeth are extracted and replaced with implants, or if their amalgam fillings are all removed and replaced with composites or crowns." This belief is, however based on the debunked theories of Hunter and Price, and not on scientific evidence.
The holistic movement has tried to update the concept of anachoresis by renaming it. In the mid 1970's, the term "cavitational osteopathosis" ("CO") was coined. In the 1980's it was renamed "neuralgia inducing cavitational osteonecrosis" ("NICO"). (Note: the NICO link is an eye opener. Read it for more details on "cavitation" surgery.) The new names have not changed the concept underlying the theory; and the science underlying the theory remains the same as it was in the early 20th century.
This is not to say that there is NO validity to the theory of anachoresis. Bacteria from an infection any place in the body CAN be carried by the blood or lymphatic system to distant parts of the body where they can form another infection. The symptoms of this sort of anachoresis are, however, quite specific and do not resemble any disease entity except a straight forward organic infection. They include infections of the heart (sub-acute bacterial endocarditis), especially in persons who have had a history of rheumatic fever or heart murmur, and on rare occasions, infections of implanted appliances such as artificial joints. There is NO indication that there is a correlation between the teeth and any other disease entity for which the cause is otherwise unknown.Can the mercury in amalgam fillings cause long term medical problems? Click here to find out