FOCAL INFECTIONS Back in the early 80’s when I was living in Japan there was a renowned acupuncturist who made quite a name for himself with his flamboyant manner and outspoken views. A medical doctor originally, he had a knack for the publicity and often challenged conventional western medical ideas.
I remember watching a TV show once where he was exchanging views with a western physician. In response to the suggestion that acupuncture was unsafe because the possibility of infecting the patient with unclean needles, instead of reassuringly stating that he was careful to use sterile needles and disinfect the skin at the insertion point - like acupuncturists are trained to do and how any other acupuncturist might have answered - he took out a needle from his breast pocket, licked it, rubbed it against the bottom of his foot, then stuck it in his arm while exclaiming, “That is what I think of all your germs!”
A little over the top by any standard - but it was good TV and it did make his point: that germs are not the fundamental cause of illness, a weakened and imbalanced body is. Although the expression was extreme, this view is representative of the philosophical underpinning of most non-conventional, energetic forms of medicine.
Yet, undeniably disease-causing agents (that is how ‘germs’ are defined) do exist and the reality is that many illnesses are a result of the interplay between them and the body’s capacity to dispose of them. The stronger the agent the more vulnerable the body is. True epidemics like the 1918 Spanish flu that killed millions worldwide, for example, are a result of a virulent virus and a susceptible population.
We can contrast this macroscopic perspective of disease and its prevention which is framed in terms of external pathogens and defined in terms of populations, epidemics and public hygiene with a microscopic one - the understanding of the disease process within a single organism.
From one perspective, aside from mechanical problems due to injury, it is possible to distinguish between two broad classes of disease: infectious and degenerative. Influenza, cholera and HIV are all examples of the former while diabetes, cancer and heart disease are prime examples of the latter. But this distinction is not so cut and dry because microorganisms of one sort or another are increasingly being implicated in - or at least associated with - chronic degenerative disease.
For instance, research has shown that there is a correlation between diabetes and pervasive, systemic fungal infection. (See Doug Kaufman’s “Fungus Link”). And, as far back as the 1920’s, Royal Rife was successfully treating cancer by identifying and eliminating particular viruses. More modern studies are also looking into the connection between particular cancers and viruses. Increasingly cardiovascular is thought of as a systemic inflammatory process. The statistical correlation between periodontal disease and heart disease has fueled speculation that the migration of certain bacteria from the gums to the heart is the link.
To one degree or another, microorganisms like bacteria, viruses, fungi, parasites, etc inhabit all complex, multi-cellular living organisms. This relationship is commonly referred to as ‘colonization’. For the most part, colonization is benign or even beneficial. For example, bacteria in the intestines of mammals assist in the digestive process (which is one of the reasons that antibiotics that destroy them can be so harmful.) When colonization becomes detrimental to the host organism, that is, when it interferes with the normal functioning of the host leading impairment, it is then called an ‘infection’. The host organism’s reaction to this is inflammation.
The difference between a benign colonization and infection is not necessarily determined by the type of the microorganism as much as the micro-environment of the body, i.e. Claude Bernard’s “terrain”. For instance, various species of the bacteria staphylococcus normally exist on the skin harmlessly, but under certain conditions they can cause a virulent infection. One such circumstance would be if staphylococcus migrates to a normally sterile space like the capsule of a joint or the peritoneum. It generally begins to multiply without encountering any resistance and become an enormous toxic burden.
The stronger the state of the host organism, the less susceptible it will be to harmful colonization or infection. But as the quantity and virulence of the microorganism increases, so does the likelihood that even the healthiest of hosts will succumb to infection.
One type of infection that can be quite difficult for the host to overcome is a ‘focal infection’. Sometimes known as a ‘metastatic’ or ‘secondary infection’, it is defined as an infection, usually bacterial, which has a source or focus at one site in the body and subsequently spreads to another part, often resulting in a systemic infection.
In one sense, any systemic infection is focal because the infection has to start somewhere before it spreads to the rest of the body. But the term is generally employed to indicate a persistent low grade chronic infection that may or may not manifest acute exacerbations. Moreover, the body is incapable of eliminating the focus and the implication is that its presence seeds inflammation in other parts of the body, acting as a continual drain on the immune system.
Focal infections can occur in any number of sites, organs or tissues. The tonsils, appendix and sinuses are perhaps the most commonly recognized examples. Next time we’ll take a further look at focal infections in relation to our mouth and teeth.
Weston Price was a dentist from Cleveland who made remarkable contributions to both the fields of dentistry and nutrition during the first half of the 20th century. The impetus for his work stemmed from his observations of the poor state of his patients’ teeth and the numerous chronic diseases from which they suffered. His work can generally be divided into two areas.
The ‘field work’, in the spirit of a medical anthropologist, was conducted by traveling around the world to observe first hand the dental health and corresponding diets of various peoples. He mainly focused on ‘primitive peoples’ - those who had not yet been significantly influenced by modern industrial life and its corresponding diet.
What he found was that these people had much better teeth - straight and without cavities - and much less chronic illness compared to his own patients. He found their diets much richer in vitamins and minerals, especially the fat soluble vitamins found in animal foods such as butter, fish eggs, shellfish and organ meats. This was in sharp contrast to the ‘civilized diets’ full of refined, processed foods, and high in carbohydrates. In a sense, his work in the field of nutrition foreshadowed many of the ideas that have become the foundation of popular low carbohydrate diets of recent vintage.
The other area that drew his attention was the effect that various commonly practiced dental procedures have on the health of patients. The results of this research are contained in two books entitled “Dental Infections Oral & Systemic” and “Dental Infections & the Degenerative Diseases”. As one might surmise from these titles, through painstaking and very thorough experimental investigations he came to the conclusion that many widely accepted, routine practices, most especially root canals, have deleterious and sometimes disastrous effects on the patient’s overall health.
Price’s work was obviously not generally accepted by the conventional dental establishment then - and it is still is widely rejected by it today. Yet, there is a small but growing number of people in the field of ‘biological’ or ‘whole body dentistry’, who have come to understand the validity and importance of his contributions.
Key to an understanding of Price’s research is the concept of ‘focal infections’. The concept of focal infections itself is neither controversial nor unique to Price’s thinking. It is widely accepted in conventional medicine and dentistry.
For instance, there is a 25% increased risk of heart disease for people who suffer from gum disease. It is thought that the chronic bacterial infection in the gums is a focal infection that spreads via the circulatory system to the heart, causing an inflammatory response that is now understood to be the cause of much heart disease. Likewise, veterinarians are very cautious when cleaning a dog’s teeth because it is known that improper cleaning can lead to damage to the valves in the heart.
What is controversial is Price’s claim that root canals and tooth extractions are also the site of focal infections leading to a variety of serious diseases. He was adamant that root canals procedures should never be performed and that any tooth with a root canal should be removed. Likewise, tooth extractions commonly lead to infection and necrosis (causing the death of cells and result inflammation) in the jawbone, and therefore must be carefully cleaned out.
It is understandable that most dentists, who are trained that their ultimate goal is to save teeth and preserve a beautiful smile, would find unacceptable an approach that encouraged both the sacrifice of a tooth rather than performing a root canal as well as the removal of any remaining root canaled teeth. These ideas were - and still are - a direct challenge to the dental profession’s official stance that a tooth on which a root canal is properly executed is absolutely sterile and will not become the seat of a focal infection.
But Price’s assertion that root canals are never sterile and always the seat of focal infections is based on his own extensive observations and experiments. The most famous series of experiments involved extracting teeth with root canals from patients with a variety of diseases and then implanted these same teeth under the skin of rabbits. He found that this procedure almost invariably ended in one of two results: either the animal died from the toxicity of the tooth or, if it survived, it developed the same pathology as that of the human from which the tooth was taken.
In one well-known experiment, Price extracted a tooth from a patient with severe neurological disease and implanted it into a series of rabbits 31 consecutive times. Without exception, these poor animals suffered neurological symptoms and died within 4 days. In another example, Price extracted a root canal tooth from a patient with an inflammation of the heart muscle and implanted in two rabbits. One of the rabbits died within 12 hours, the other developed an enlarged and weakened heart.
Conversely, many of the humans from whom these teeth were extracted experienced profound relief of their illnesses. Price found that although the heart and circulatory system is most commonly damaged by root canals, in fact any system is susceptible to being adversely affected. Arthritis, nervous system disease, kidney disease and a host of others were linked to this widely accepted and adamantly defended dental procedure.
The other day I was speaking with a patient who is a veterinarian about the concept of focal infections in the context of the philosophy of “Biological Dentistry”.
The fundamental proposition of Biological Dentistry is that the condition of the teeth and their surrounding tissues - primarily the gums and the jawbone - has a profound influence on the health of the entire body. By extension, this perspective changes many of the objectives of dental care and the ultimate responsibility of its practitioners. Instead of focusing on saving teeth and preserving a perfect smile, the goal is to preserve life, eliminate or prevent illness, and to maintain teeth that serve these very same purposes.
As mentioned above, focal infections are ones that originate at one site in the body, subsequently spread to another part and often results in a systemic infection. The teeth, gums and jawbone along with the tonsils are considered to be primary sources of focal infections. So, the state of these areas can have a dramatic impact on the overall health of an individual.
To my patient these concepts were not new at all. It turns out that it is common knowledge amongst veterinarians that infections in the mouth of a dog improperly treated or left untreated often cause damage to the valves of its heart. The affinity that a certain microorganism causing a focal infection has for spreading to a particular part of the body, in this case the heart valves, is called “elective localization”.
This term was coined by Edward Rosenow, the head of experimental bacteriology for the Mayo Foundation for 30 years and the author of hundreds of research papers over a span of 50+ years. He demonstrated conclusively that organisms isolated from dental and other focal sites of persons with various diseases would have a similar affinity for corresponding tissues when injected they were into laboratory animals.
It is hypothesized that particular microorganisms find the environment of certain body tissues to be more hospitable than others. Not only will they be able to survive in this friendly environment, they will be able to thrive, multiplying to the extent that they cause inflammation and related pathologies. As one example of this, when Rosenow injected over 100 animals with bacteria from people suffering with stomach ulcers, some 60% of them developed bleeding in the stomach or upper intestines.
Consequently, Biological Dentists pay close attention to the possibility that a focal infection is present in the mouth. As was cited earlier, the research of Weston Price in the first half of the 20th century and the experience of many Biological Dentists clearly demonstrate that root canals are oftentimes - some would say all the time - sources of focal infections.
Another major breeding ground for focal infections is cavitations. This is a term that basically means ‘a hole’. It first appeared in medical literature over two centuries ago to describe a group of diseases that cause bone deterioration and loss. Currently, it is used to describe a condition that can affect any bone tissue in the body, but most commonly associated with a severe condition of the hip.
For well over a century, the term cavitation is used in a dental context to describe a condition characterized by dead tissue, known as necrosis, in the jawbone. It is a condition that exists independently from abscessed teeth and gums. Many cavitations form as a result of a tooth extraction where the bone tissue has not filled in properly. Although the bone will regrow in the area left open by the extracted tooth, it often will be incomplete with holes and spongy tissue instead of solid health bone tissue.
Cavitations of the jaw usually do not manifest the common symptoms of infection such as inflammation, redness, fever or pus. The great majority of them develop untreated over long periods of time and they become virulent sources of focal infections, causing any number of conditions similar to root canals.
NICOs, Neuralgia Inducing Cavitational Osteonecrosis, are a condition in which a cavitation causes debilitating pains, often in the face or head. They can also lead to ulcers, gall bladder problems, cystitis, pneumonia, bronchitis, rheumatism, asthma, pleuricy, nephritis, thyroid disease, herpes, iritis, poliomyelitis, multiple sclerosis, certain skin disorders, diabetes, migraines, hypertension and more.
Jawbone necrosis is for the most part a result of the trauma resulting from dental treatment. Large fillings, crowns, bridges periodontal scaling, tooth extractions, injections and other procedures can all reduce the blood supply to the jawbone. Toxins are impeded from leaving the bone, nutrients and oxygen are impeded from getting in.
Dental surgery to cut out the osteonecrotic area of the jaw, known as ‘debridement’ is necessary to treat cavitations. But, with little awareness of cavitations and the associated consequences, it is rarely if ever done in standard dentistry. Along with removal of mercury and other toxic metal fillings, removal of root canals and debridement are some of the most important procedures that Biological Dentist perform.
Unfortunately, a practitioner who attempts to conscientiously fulfill the objectives of Biological Dentistry will find it difficult to accept many of the orthodox opinions and standard procedures of conventional dentistry and, as a consequence, is inevitably risking running afoul of the dental establishment, represented by various dental licensing boards and the American Dental Association
While I have read and heard Biological Dentists being criticized as misguided, or even worse, as charlatans and opportunists, my personal opinion is that we actually owe them a debt of gratitude for having the courage to follow their convictions and for providing options to many people who are suffering from any number of serious illnesses.
While it certainly is not the case that the procedures they advocate are curative in all situations, it is true that there are many people who have experienced improvement in their conditions - partial improvement, profound improvement or even complete cure.
It is important to bear in mind that the pathologies involved are often quite extreme and may have been developing for decades by the time they undergo treatment. Reversal of all damage already done may not be possible, but it may be possible to provide partial relief and/or prevent further deterioration. Perhaps even more importantly, proactive, preventive biological dental care may avert the development of any number of illnesses altogether.