If bacteria gets inside your tooth and its soft pulp becomes infected, you have two choices for treating it: root canal or extraction. Left untreated, the infection can actually spread to other parts of your body. So which procedure should you choose? You’ll want to consider several factors, including:
- Recovery Time
- Oral Health
Consider the Overall Costs of Treating an Infected Tooth
Because it is a more involved procedure, a root canal does cost more than removing a tooth. In fact, it can cost twice as much. However, you need to consider the overall costs – not just the upfront expense.
One of the biggest advantages of root canal therapy is the preservation of your dental structure, including tooth roots. When a tooth is extracted, the roots are removed too. Tooth roots provide stimulation that helps keep your jawbone strong and intact. Without it, you lose the bone that surrounds and supports your tooth – about 25 percent of the bone mass in the first year alone. To avoid this bone loss, you’ll need to get a dental implant/dental crown combination.
If you’d rather not get an implant, we still recommend replacing a lost tooth. If you don’t it will create problems with activities like speaking and eating. Plus, nearby teeth will shift out of place, causing dental problems. You can replace a missing tooth with a dental bridge.
Once the cost of tooth replacement is added, the “savings” of an extraction will vanish.
Root Canal or Extraction: Which One Is More Comfortable
Over the years, root canals have developed a reputation as a painful procedure. We aren’t sure why, as our patients tell us the treatment is no more uncomfortable than having a cavity filled. We think maybe patients associate the pain of their infected tooth with the procedure – even though the procedure is what stops the pain.
Depending on the tooth, an extraction can involve your dentist needing to use a great deal of force to remove it. In contrast, for a root canal Dr. Reeh will:
- Access your tooth’s infected pulp through a small opening in your gums
- Use special equipment to disinfect the tooth’s interior
- Repair the canals inside your tooth
- Fill the canals with an inert material called gutta percha
- Seal your tooth with a filling
Dr. Reeh will numb the area with local anesthetic prior to your root canal treatment, and you can also receive dental sedation if you’d like. So while a root canal will typically take longer than an extraction, it is arguably more comfortable.
If You Want an Easy Recovery, Get a Root Canal
Recovery time is another important factor when trying to determine whether to have root canal or extraction. This one is a no brainer! Following a root canal, you should experience only minor discomfort that can easily be controlled with over-the-counter medication; many of our patients have no discomfort at all. Unlike an extraction, there is no blood. You will experience few if any limitations on your normal activities.
In contrast, following an extraction:
- You’ll experience bleeding for several hours
- You’ll need to eat soft, bland foods only for at least a few days
- You should avoid rinsing or spitting for 24 hours, which makes oral hygiene a challenge
- You should avoid vigorous exercise or similar activity for 48-72 hours to encourage blood clotting
- If blood doesn’t clot properly, you may end up with a painful dry socket
- It takes a few weeks for your soft tissue to fully heal, so you will need to treat the extraction site with care
Following your recovery, you will need to make additional trips to the dentist office to prepare for a tooth replacement and actually have the replacement done.
Whenever Possible, It’s Best to Keep Your Tooth Intact
In general, it’s always best to preserve your natural tooth structure when you can. We touched on some of the reasons above. Bone loss is a big one. You lose about 25 percent of your bone mass near the removed tooth in the first year. The loss continues, sometimes causing a noticeable difference in how your face looks. Bone loss is what creates the sunken-faced appearance in those who lose multiple teeth. This loss will occur unless you get a dental implant following your extraction.
If you don’t replace your tooth – with or without an implant – your nearby teeth will move and shift. This can create a misaligned bite. Depending on where the tooth is located in your mouth, you’ll also have a visible gap in your smile. And the missing tooth may affect your ability to chew food and even to speak clearly.