Root Canal vs. Tooth Extraction - What’s the Difference and Why Should You Care?

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.

For example, 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.

Explore more ways to control the cost of necessary dental services

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 a dental health choice, it's important to understand all the options and the long-term consequences. Here are some points to consider if you need to make this painful decision some day:

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.

Here’s how the process works:

  1. An opening is made through the crown of the tooth.
  2. Then, special files are used to remove the infected pulp.
  3. Next, the canals (open space inside the tooth where the pulp used to be) are shaped and thoroughly cleaned.
  4. They are then filled with a permanent material and sometimes a support known as a post.
  5. A filling is then placed over the canal to seal off the tooth.
  6. Finally, a crown is added on top.

Why do people choose to get a root canal?

A root canal has several advantages over removing the tooth:

  • Strength and stability: 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.
  • Looks better: 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.
  • Improved procedure: If you had a root canal many years ago, you’ll find today’s procedure is faster, easier, and far less uncomfortable. In recent history, this procedure has become increasingly popular, whereas extractions were more common in the past.

Why do people choose NOT to get a root canal?

From a cost standpoint, a root canal is generally more expensive than the price of a tooth extraction, but there’s more involved than just the initial procedure. Unless you’re willing to leave a gaping hole in your mouth (which is bad for both your oral health and your social life) having a tooth removed requires you to get a dental bridge or implant in place of the lost tooth. Overall, this means that the work needed to complete a tooth extraction could end up being more expensive than a root canal.

No matter what procedure you have done, having a dental discount plan will ensure that you save on 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. There are two types of extractions: simple and surgical. 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. These include:

  • Tooth damage
  • Orthodontic treatments
  • Extra teeth
  • Malpositioned (crooked) teeth

Moreover, some conditions and therapies heighten the risk of teeth getting infected, and therefore can lead to an increased need for an extraction.

As noted above, the decision between getting a root canal or a tooth extraction is yours to make if you’re unfortunate enough to deal with an infected tooth. However, getting professional input from your dentist is smart. Likewise, looking at the big picture when it comes to long-term cost makes good sense.

Either way, the key point to keep in mind is the importance of prioritizing your oral health. If cost is an important factor for you, joining a dental discount program can be just what the dentist ordered!


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