Root Canal Costs and Concerns - What You Need to Know

March 27, 2017

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No one wants to hear that they need a root canal. In fact, the concept of getting a root canal has become a popular metaphor for any uncomfortable, painful experience we’d do just about anything to avoid.

But, in reality, physical pain is usually an insignificant part of what makes this common dental procedure so unpopular. The real problem is cost.

Let’s back up for a moment and start with the basics:

Your dentist has told you you’re going to need a root canal. What exactly does that mean? And why has it become necessary?

What is a root canal and why do you need one?

Your teeth are made up of three basic layers:

  1. Enamel - the hard, white outer surface
  2. Dentin - the hard material making up most of the structure
  3. Pulp - the soft tissue in the center, where the nerves and blood vessels live

The pulp extends from approximately the center of the tooth down into the roots where the tooth connects to your gum and receives the blood and nutrients that keep it healthy. Not surprisingly, the tiny space the pulp takes up inside each root is called the “root canal.”

Endodontic treatment - better known as root canal treatment - is a tried and true method of relieving pain and saving your natural tooth when inflammation or infection has threatened to do irreversible damage to the pulp, resulting in tremendous pain and an eventual extraction. It’s not a procedure you’ll want to put off or try to ignore, because if an infected tooth isn’t treated or removed, the infection will spread to the bone and other tissue around it, creating a more dangerous situation.

For a detailed step-by-step explanation of the procedure, we recommend watching this brief video presented by the American Association of Endodontics: 

In short, however, root canal treatment involves making an opening in the surface of the tooth, removing the diseased pulp, disinfecting the remaining tissue, and sealing the tooth to prevent any further damage or infection. This allows for your natural tooth to be saved, preserving its look and function.

All stereotypes and jokes aside, with modern precision instruments and high-quality local anesthetics, root canal treatment is a fast and painless procedure that provides relief from painful conditions and saves millions of teeth every year.

What will a root canal cost you?

"All stereotypes and jokes aside, with modern precision instruments and high-quality local anesthetics, root canal treatment is a fast and painless procedure that provides relief from painful conditions and saves millions of teeth every year."

After patients get past the initial trepidation and go through with the procedure, they’re often pleasantly surprised about how quick, easy, and pain free it was. However, the dental bill is a different story.

Unlike more routine procedures like cleanings and x-rays, endodontic treatment is an involved procedure that requires the attention of a specialist. Depending on circumstances, it may extend beyond a single visit. As a result, it can be quite expensive. And many insurance plans only cover a portion of the cost, even if you’ve already met your deductible for the year.

According to the non-profit consumer organization, FAIR Health, the average cost for a root canal in the United States ranges from $762 to $1,111, depending on which tooth needs the work. In coastal and urban areas where costs are higher, the procedure can cost as much as $1,300 or more.

These prices don’t take into account the additional cost of having the tooth permanently filled or choosing to install a cosmetic crown, which can cost an additional $500 to $1,300 at your dentist’s office after the root canal procedure is completed.

Although very rare, as with any medical procedure, there’s the chance of complications during or after a root canal treatment that can end up increasing the cost of the procedure.

Understandably, the overall cost of a root canal is what ends up causing more fear, pain, and frustration than the procedure itself or the need for it in the first place.

How to control the costs and receive the oral health care you need

As noted earlier, if your dentist determines you need root canal treatment, the cost shouldn’t stop you from getting it done. Nothing looks, feels, and functions like your natural tooth, and you can’t risk allowing infection or inflammation to spread - both for the sake of your overall health and your quality of life.

But that doesn’t mean any of us should just resign to paying exorbitant costs to ensure a proper procedure. If you have dental insurance, be sure to do research ahead of time to verify you’re visiting a participating endodontist and that any needed prior approvals or other requirements are handled before going in for your root canal treatment.

If you don’t have dental insurance, or if your insurance won’t cover a significant portion of the cost, consider joining a dental discount program. For a low monthly or annual fee, you can receive 20%-50% off general and specialized dental services (like endodontic treatment), making the final out-of-pocket cost much more affordable.

Whether you’ve already been told you need a root canal, or you just want to be prepared for possible future needs, a dental discount plan to save on dental care can be a wise investment in your oral health and your peace of mind.

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