Root Canal Versus Tooth Extraction

April 14, 2015

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When a tooth gets badly infected at the nerve, there are two options for addressing the issue: a root canal or tooth extraction. These procedures have various pros and cons, but general consensus from dental professionals is that it's best to save the tooth whenever possible. Of course, certain situations call for the tooth to be entirely extracted as well. From a consumer point of view, deciding between these two options can be rather complicated.

A tooth extraction may appear to be cheaper at first, which encourages many people to opt for having the tooth pulled rather than undergoing a root canal. Yet an extraction comes with its own set of risks and requires follow-up procedures to implant a spacer or false tooth in the gap. While your dentist will be able to make a recommendation based on your specific situation, the final decision is ultimately yours. What is important is addressing an infected tooth, as ignoring this issue not only leads to oral health problems, but also larger medical issues if the infection spreads. 

When you have to make this dental health choice, it's important to understand both of these procedures and the long-term consequences. 

What is a root canal? 

When a large cavity or other factor causes a tooth's root to become infected and inflamed, a root canal is often done to remove the infected root without taking out the tooth. According to Colgate, an opening is made through the crown of the tooth and then special files are use to remove the infected pulp.1  Next, the canals are shaped and thoroughly cleaned before they are filled with a permanent material and sometimes a support known as a post. A filling is then placed over the canal to seal off the tooth, and a crown is added on top. 

A root canal has several advantages over a tooth extraction. Each tooth in the mouth supports the teeth around it, so when a tooth is extracted the neighboring teeth will start to push into the gap. According to a survey by the American Association of Endodontists, 76 percent of people prefer the idea of a root canal to a tooth extraction, likely due to a desire to keep their own teeth.2 In recent history, this procedure has become increasingly popular, whereas extractions were more common in the past. 

From a cost standpoint, a root canal is generally more expensive than the price of a tooth extraction, but the latter procedure requires getting a dental bridge or implant in place of the lost tooth. Overall, this means that the work needed to complement a tooth extraction is potentially more expensive than a root canal in the end. No matter what procedure you have done, having a dental discount plan will ensure that you save on the price of dental care.

What is a tooth extraction? 

A tooth extraction in plain terms is just having a tooth entirely removed. Some teeth, such as wisdom teeth, may have to be extracted to prevent crowding and other issues. The Consumer Guide to Dentistry notes that there are two types of extractions: simple and surgical.3 A simple extraction is usually performed by a dentist and involves removing a tooth that is easily visible. A surgical extraction is needed when a tooth is harder to reach and may require an oral surgeon. 

There are several situations in which a tooth may need to be extracted. The Consumer Guide to Dentistry lists severe tooth damage, orthodontic treatments, extra teeth and malpositioned teeth may all cause the need for a tooth to be removed. Moreover, some conditions and therapies heighten the risk of teeth getting infected, and therefore can lead to an increased need for an extraction. 

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"Illustrations: Root Canal Treatment From Start to Finish," Colgate, Jan. 25, 2011. http://www.colgate.com/app/CP/US/EN/OC/Information/Articles/Oral-and-Dental-Health-Basics/Checkups-and-Dental-Procedures/Root-Canal-Treatment/article/Illustrations-Root-Canal-Treatment-From-Start-to-Finish.cvsp

"Fact sheet," American Association of Endodontists. http://www.aae.org/about-aae/news-room/fact-sheet.aspx

"Tooth Extraction: What is Involved with Extraction and What Does it Cost?," by Nayda Rondon, Consumer Guide to Dentistry. http://www.yourdentistryguide.com/tooth-extraction/

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