Netflix has quietly pulled the controversial documentary Root Cause from its streaming platform and scrubbed all trace of it from their website.
The film, directed by Australian film-maker Frazer Bailey, alleges that root canals cause cancer, heart disease and other serious chronic illness, and that the best way to deal with an injured or infected tooth would be to simply pull it.
These claims have no scientific basis.
Netflix began carrying the film 1 January 2019, and it soon met opposition from the American Dental Association (ADA), American Association of Endodontists (AAE) and American Association of Dental Research (AADR).
In a letter dated 29 January, the ADA, AAE and AADR wrote that continuing to host the film on their platform could harm the viewing public by spreading misinformation about safe medical treatments like root canals.
These associations also sent similar letters to Apple, Amazon and Vimeo, which also carried the film. As of this publication date, the film is still available for purchase or streaming on these three sites.
Dental health experts praised the decision to remove the film from Netflix, which has about 58 million subscribers in the US alone.
“The film contains significant misinformation that is not supported by scientific evidence, which can cause unwarranted fear among viewers,” said Jeffrey M Cole, the president of the ADA. Jennifer Gibbs, the director of endodontics at the Harvard School of Dental Medicine, praised Netflix’s “wise and responsible decision”, citing its large audience.
The company didn’t respond to a request for comment, but Eleanor Patterson, an assistant professor of media studies at Auburn University, said it was unlikely that criticism from the medical community played a large role.
Instead, Netflix may be protecting its growing reputation for producing high-quality documentaries, Patterson said. Documentaries including Making a Murderer, which won four Emmys in 2016, and The White Helmets, Icarus, and Period. End of Sentence which have won Oscars.
With all those prizes come prestige, said Porter Bibb, a media expert and managing partner at MediaTech Capital Partners LLC. And a universally panned documentary film like Root Cause could do a lot of damage to Netflix’s reputation – not just among viewers but among the high caliber talent that has been slowly migrating over to its production company.
“Netflix could not afford to take a back step and see the accolades and new prominence its films have achieved [disappear], or risk losing the high quality talent which has gravitated to Netflix in the past year,” he said.
Media experts also pointed out that Netflix’s lack of statement or explanation about the decision was in line with their secrecy about viewing ratings.
“Unlike broadcast, cable, box office, or retail sales, digital media platforms like Netflix can make these decisions in secret,” said Miranda Banks, an associate professor of film and media at Emerson College. “That leaves the ADA, the filmmakers, and audiences left guessing their motive. But the motive is almost always money.”