Weston A. Price (Born Weston Andrew Valleau Price) (Newburgh, Ontario September 6, 1870–Santa Monica, CA January 23, 1948) was a prominent dentist known primarily for his theories on the relationship between nutrition, dental health, and physical health. He founded the Research Institute of the National Dental Association, which later became the Research Section of the American Dental Association, and served as its chair from 1914-1928. He is practically the patron saint of crank dentistry.
Noted in the dental profession for his work in the relationship between x-ray and cancer, the invention and improvement of a pyrometer dental furnace, and the development of radiological techniques expanded on in the 1940s, Price has been brought to the general public's attention by anti-root canal, anti-fluoride, and paleo-diet supporters basing their ideas on two of his works: Dental Infections, Oral and Systemic (1923) and Nutrition and Physical Degeneration: A Comparison of Primitive and Modern Diets and Their Effects (1939).
Dental Infections, Oral and Systemic was Price's research supporting the then-prevalent concept of oral focal infection theory which had already led to extractions, rather than endodontic therapy being the predominant method in dentistry. However, research in the 1930s raised questions about the quality of this and similar evidence and, despite a cautious resurgence in interest in oral FIT, there is still no scientific evidence for it working to the degree supported by Price and his contemporaries.
Nutrition and Physical Degeneration: A Comparison of Primitive and Modern Diets and Their Effects detailed his global travels studying the diets and nutrition of various cultures, coming to the conclusion that so-called Western diet was the cause of many diseases.
Price to 1994
While notable during his lifetime and for a few years afterward, aside from the occasional note in dental textbooks regarding his research into the relationship between x-ray and cancer, invention and improvement of a pyrometer dental furnace, the development of radiological techniques expanded on in the 1940s, and the formation of the Weston A. Price Memorial Foundation in 1952 (not to be confused with the Weston A. Price Foundation), Weston Price was virtually unknown in both dental and average public circles, with his work on focal infection and nutrition being barely mentioned.
That all changed in 1994 when George E. Meinig published Root Canal Cover-up Exposed, reviving Price's 1923 Dental Infections, Oral and Systemic and pushing a man who before had warranted little more than a paragraph in dentistry textbooks into the limelight. It wasn't long before the anti-root canal and later paleo-diet crowds turned Price from the mainstream-for-his-time DDS he was into crusader whose work had been suppressed by the "establishment." The reality was, of course, quite different, but sadly the skeptics didn't point this out, helping to feed the suppression claims.
Price and Focal Infection Theory
Unlike Price's Dental Infections, Oral and Systemic, Meinig's had no professional editor, made unsubstantiated claims, confused basic terms (such as infection and inflammation), and expanded into areas far outside the scope of Price's original work to the the point that a reviewer stated "I wonder how the serious researcher Weston Price would have reacted to the way his work has been presented."
Unfortunately, critics of the anti-root canal movement have used Meinig's version of Price's work as the basis of their criticism rather than going back to Price himself, which is ironic as Price makes comments that could be easily used to challenge those who currently use his 1923 work.
Price conservative for his time regarding tooth extraction
Contrary to the picture both the anti-root canal movement and its critics paint, Price was never enthusiastic about tooth extraction:
“”Just here I wish to introduce a warning; Exodontists and physicians who do not have the heart-rending worries of making dentures comfortable and serviceable, under conditions which are so nearly impossible as to be very discouraging, often feel justified in removing many doubtful teeth. I am seeing continually patients suffering more from the inconvenience and difficulties of mastication and nourishment than they did from the lesions from which their physician or dentist had sought to give them relief".
Some 12 years later the author of an article in the Journal of the Canadian Dental Association would cite part of this passage as an example of "the authorities that emphasize my contentions for conservatism" even though it came from the "radical" Price.
Price admits causation does not imply correlation
The critics of the anti-root canal movement like to point out that causation does not imply correlation, seemingly ignorant of the fact Price himself stated:
“”The relationships between dental infections and degenerative diseases, if such exist, should be demonstrable by other means than the establishment of simply an association of the two in the same person, or the development of such lesions in experimental animals with cultures taken from focal infections. In this paper I summarize some new data developed in my researches on the relation of focal infection to systemic disease, with particular consideration of dental focal infections and the degenerative diseases, and with especial reference to structural changes that take place in the supporting structures about dental focal infections, and to serologic changes in body serums."
Price finds no evidence supporting focal Infection theory
However, the biggest mistake of critics of the anti-root canal movement is missing this one passing comment Price made about his 1923 work in his 1939 Nutrition and Physical Degeneration:
“”In my search for the cause of degeneration of the human face and the dental organs I have been unable to find an approach to the problem through the study of affected individuals and diseased tissues. In my two volume work on "Dental Infections," Volume I, entitled "Dental Infections, Oral and Systemic," and Volume II, entitled "Dental Infections and the Degenerative Diseases," (PRICE, W. A. Dental Infections, Oral and Systemic. Cleveland, Penton, 1923) I reviewed at length the researches that I had conducted to throw light on this problem. The evidence seemed to indicate clearly that the forces that were at work were not to be found in the diseased tissues, but that the undesirable conditions were the result of the absence of something, rather than of the presence of something. This strongly indicated the need for finding groups of individuals so physically perfect that they could be used as controls. In order to discover them, I determined to search out primitive racial stocks that were free from the degenerative processes with which we are concerned in order to note what they have that we do not have.
Here, right from the very man that the anti-root canal movement has made their golden boy, is the admission that not only couldn't he find evidence of focal infection being the cause of systemic disease but that the actual cause was due to something else and that he needed groups as physically perfect as possible to test this new hypothesis.
Price and Nutrition
As with Dental Infections, Oral and Systemic, Nutrition and Physical Degeneration was also a product of its time. In fact, given Nutrition and Physical Degeneration was published by Paul B. Hoeber, Inc the Medical Book Department of Harper & Brothers at that time (meaning a peer review by medical personal before being published) one can argue this work was even more mainstream then his previously self-published work. Praised and criticized during Price's life time and shortly after his death, Nutrition and Physical Degeneration fit very well into the idea that nutrition could prevent tooth decay as well as the noble savage idea then popular (which was also being criticized).
However, both sides of the paleo-diet debate have missed an obvious problem with Price's work: the fortification of food. When Price printed his book in 1939 only vitamin D (1927) and vitamin C (1934) existed in synthetic form to be put into food and it wasn't until 1941 when the FDA actually came up with guidelines for fortifying flour.. This means that Price largely studied the consumption of unfortified modern food. But today, most processed food is fortified so there is a clear disconnect between the processed "modern" food Price studied and our processed modern food.
Another issue both sides of the paleo-diet debate have missed is that once one looks at the literature one realizes that while there had been earlier studies (such as May Mellanby's 1924 "The Effect of Diet on the Development and extension of caries in the the teeth of children") the early 1930s was when research into the relationship between tooth decay and nutrition really kicked into high gear. However, as a 1933 paper reveals this was largely unexplored territory with each researcher (including Price himself) promoting a different nutrient. In fact, there were papers coming out as recently as a year before Price published his book on the matter. So as with Focal Infection Theory in the 1920s, Price was neither a pioneer nor a lone maverick fighting the establishment but rather mainstream for his time.
This brings us to the elephant in the room both sides of the paleo-diet debate seems to want to ignore like the plague: Price's work was a product of his time not ours. The understanding of medicine in general and nutrition in particular has changed a lot since 1939 and any use of what Price did must take that into consideration.
The real lessons of Price
Stripped of all the woo added by Meinig and others, Price's work still has meaning for today's world.
- Focus on the biology of teeth and infection rather than emphasizing technology and poorly tested procedures for treatment of tooth decay.
- Understand the importance of recognizing the synergy of certain vitamin combinations.
- Eat vitamin-dense food and avoid vitamin-poor or -empty foods.
These are the real lessons of Price's work.
- Ambler, Henry Lovejoy. History of Denistry in Cleveland, Ohio 1911. pp 44-56.
- "Weston A Price" New York Times Jan 24, 1948
- (1925) The Nebraska state medical journal, Volume 10, Issue 6; pg 205
- (1928) British journal of dental science Volumes 72-73; Page 101
- Medical Record, A Weekly Journal of Medicine and Surgery - (Dec 1903, Volume 64, page 982)
- Walton, Richard E. (2007), "15", Ingle's Endodontics (6 ed.), PMPH-USA, pp. 554, ISBN 978-1-55009-333-9
- Karjodkar (2006), Textbook of Dental and Maxillofacial Radiology (1 ed.), Jaypee Brothers, Medical Publishers, pp. 6, ISBN 8180618544
- Langland, Olaf E.; Francis H. Sippy (1973) Textbook of dental radiography
- Pallasch, Thomas J. DDS; MS, and Michael J. Wahl, (2003) "Focal infection: new age or ancient history?" Endodontic Topics, 4, 32–45
- Hasselgren, Gunnar (1994) Annals of dentistry: Volumes 53-54 New York Academy of Dentistry pg 42-43)
- Price, Weston (1923) Dental infections, oral and systemic pg 488
- (1935) Journal of the Canadian Dental Association volume 1; pg 451
- "Dental Infection and related Degenerative Diseases" J Am Med Assoc 1925;84(4):254-261.
- Vaughn, Warrent T. 1940. "Effects of Dietary Deficiencies". The Scientific Monthly, 50(5):463-464
- Nutrition and Physical Degeneration: A Comparison of Primitive and Modern Diets and Their Effects". J Am Med Assoc 114 (26): 2589. 29 June 1940.
- Jones, Isaac H.; et al. (December 1950). "Nutrition and the eye, ear, nose and throat (with excerpts from the literature.)". The Laryngoscope 60 (12): 1210–1216. doi:10.1288/00005537-195012000-00004.
- (2003) Dietary Reference Intakes: Guiding Principles for Nutrition Labeling and Fortification Food and Nutrition Board (FNB) pg 45-55
- Mellanby, May C. Lee Pattison and C. W. Proud, (1924) "The Effect of Diet on the Development and extension of caries in the the teeth of children" BMJ Aug 1924 pg 254
- "Metabolic Disturbance in Relation to the Teeth" by Charles F. Bodecker, D.D.S. from the laboratory of Histo-pathology, Columbia University School of Dental and Oral Surgery, New York Delivered November 3. 1933
- East, B. R. (1938) Nutrition and dental caries. American Journal of Public Health. 28; 72-6.
- McBeath, E.C. (1938) Nutrition and diet in relation to preventive dentistry. New York Journal of Dentistry 8; 17-21.