Is a root canal’s reputation justified?
A root canal is often associated as a dreaded term when someone is in pain. The truth is, however, that root canals are no more painful or difficult than a traditional filling. There are several misconceptions surrounding root canal therapy when in fact, a root canal is a fairly common and comfortable procedure.
Root canals are often the last treatment option for someone before they need to permanently extract a tooth because it can help remedy a painful tooth or avoid a surgical procedure like an extraction. Although it is a difficult decision whether you should get a root canal versus extract a tooth, there are many advantages to saving your tooth, both functionally and financially.
When are root canals needed?
When a cavity is caught and treated early enough, a dental filling is usually enough. However, when tooth decay is large or left untreated, it can lead to pain and infection, requiring root canal therapy to save the tooth. Other causes of needing a root canal include tooth fractures or chips from injury or excessive grinding, infections to the gum area, large dental fillings, or previous dental trauma.
A general dentist or endodontist can treat root canals by removing the infected or inflamed pulp, gently shaping and cleaning the canals, and filling the canals to create a seal. You will typically need a crown or restoration to protect your tooth and give it more support.
Signs You May Need a Root Canal
Common signs you may need a root canal include the following:
- Severe tooth pain—a dull ache after chewing or when pressure is applied. Common in the evening
- Gum swelling—an abscess may indicate you have a tooth infection near the roots of the tooth
- Tooth sensitivity—if you experience tooth sensitivity to hot or cold substances
- Tooth discoloration—some tooth color changes indicate the tooth is necrotic (dead)
Benefits of Root Canal Treatment
There are numerous benefits of an endodontic procedure that can have positive lasting effects on your oral and general health.
- Provides pain relief
- Stops the spread of infection
- Ensures comfortable eating and chewing
- Cost-effective dental treatment
- Saves your natural tooth
- Eliminates temperature sensitivity
When should teeth be extracted?
Sometimes even a root canal cannot save a tooth. Usually, this occurs if there is too much damage or loss of tooth structure to restore the tooth. If a tooth cannot be restored, a root canal won’t do much good. Other indications that a tooth needs an extraction include the following:
- Facial cellulitis—a facial swelling that may require antibiotics and an extraction to rid infection
- Gum disease—advanced gum disease can lead to bone and tissue loss, causing your teeth to become loose
- Compromised immune system—some people with chronic health conditions like cancer or organ transplants may benefit more from definitive care like an extraction
Common Myths About Root Canal Treatment
If you need a root canal, it is best to speak to your dentist about your concerns as there are several myths about root canal therapy that may deter you from proper treatment. Here are some of the most frequent misconceptions.
1. Root canal treatment is painful.
It is understandable that root canal treatment may be painful because usually someone needs it when they have a toothache. However, with advanced dental equipment and materials, root canal treatment is no different than a traditional filling. In fact, root canal treatment often relieves pain because the procedure helps remove the nerve portion of the tooth that causes discomfort. Dentists will use a local anesthetic during the treatment to make the patient comfortable as well as recommend post-treatment pain relief as needed.
2. It is always better to pull a tooth.
When you extract a tooth, it creates many more dental issues including tooth replacement which can be costly, teeth shifting position which can affect your bite, and gaps that can affect function and appearance. Saving your natural tooth is always the best option. Properly done endodontic treatment has a very high success rate and can often last a lifetime.
3. Root canals can cause illness.
There is no proven scientific evidence that root canal treatment is linked to medical illness. The opposite is actually true. Leaving tooth decay or an injured tooth that requires root canal treatment can make you more vulnerable to pain, infection, and illness. Treatment can only improve your oral health and get your dental health back in top shape.
4. Root canal treatment is too expensive.
In most cases, root canal treatment is more expensive than a routine dental filling because it is a more complex and timely procedure. However, when compared to a dental extraction and tooth replacement like a bridge or dental implant, root canals are cost effective and a sound investment into your overall health.
The Final Decision
It is a challenging decision whether to get a root canal or an extraction. There are many considerations: finances, prognosis of your tooth, any underlying health conditions, oral health status, etc. Ultimately if your tooth is restorable, root canal treatment benefits outweigh a dental extraction.