If you feel a consistent ache in your teeth or one of your teeth always feels sensitive to hot or cold food and drink, chances are you’ve got a big dentist appointment coming up. Should your dentist discover that your tooth’s pulp is infected, you’ll have two choices to take care of the issue: a root canal or an extraction.
Both of these treatments can get rid of your pain and discomfort, but they result in totally different outcomes. A root canal involves cleaning out the roots of your teeth and replacing your tooth’s crown with an artificial match. A tooth extraction involves pulling the tooth entirely.
Those are some big differences! It’s tough to know which you should choose. Let’s break down all the different factors involved in root canals and extractions so you can consider your choices carefully before making a final decision.
What is a Root Canal?
A root canal involves removing the top or crown of an infected tooth, then using a series of drills or small handheld tools to remove the infected pulp from within the tooth's roots. By removing infected pulp from the tooth’s roots, an infection is stopped in its tracks and the tooth returns to normal function.
Because the pulp is removed from the tooth roots, however, the roots must be filled in with an artificial and sterile material that prevents infection from afflicting that particular tooth again. At the end of a root canal procedure, a new crown is set on top of the tooth. In this way, most of an infected tooth is retained. The tooth stays healthy since its tissues are nourished by the teeth surrounding it.
What is a Tooth Extraction?
As opposed to a root canal, which preserves the majority of an infected tooth, a tooth extraction is performed to completely remove an infected or highly damaged tooth.
Visible teeth are typically extracted with a simple procedure – the tooth is pulled using handheld tools, and the tooth socket may be filled or closed over with sutures to prevent infection.
However, if a tooth is only partially visible or if it is fragmented, tooth extraction may be a more complex procedure and can involve more serious surgery. The tooth may need to be broken into pieces and your surgeon may need to cut into the jawbone to some extent.
All in all, root canals and tooth extractions are used for different needs and can often solve different problems.
What Should I Consider When Choosing Between a Root Canal and an Extraction?
People may choose between a root canal ended extraction when one or more of their teeth are seriously infected with bacteria.
Teeth can become infected with bacteria due to cavities, which develop when bacteria remain on the surface of a tooth long enough to dig through a tooth’s durable enamel layer and reach the dentin and pulp underneath.
Since cavities can be such big pains (literally!), it’s always a good idea to practice a thorough dental hygiene routine. Use fluoride-infused toothpaste, like Supersmile’s Professional Whitening Toothpaste, and floss as often as you brush your teeth. That’s the best way to stop bacteria from spreading too far.
A root canal and an extraction both solve the primary problem: an infected tooth is usually quite sensitive and painful and can also risk the infection spreading to other teeth or to the gums.
But root canals preserve most of the original tooth, whereas an extraction removes the tooth. With a tooth extraction, the tooth must either be replaced or existing teeth will fill in the gap depending on the shape of your mouth and how crowded it is.
Not sure which procedure to choose? Consider these major factors and discuss them with your dentist.
Saving the Tooth
Do you want to save the original tooth as much as possible? If so, a root canal is the way to go. Although the crown of your tooth will be replaced, most of the original material will remain and it is unlikely others will be able to tell that you had a root canal in the first place.
On the flip side, if a particularly visible tooth must be extracted, such as one of your front teeth, its absence may be noticeable in pictures or in other circumstances.
You should also consider the recovery time associated with both procedures. Root canals typically take less time to fully recover from. Most patients fully recover within a few days.
In contrast, it’s not uncommon for tooth extraction procedures to require between 2 to 4 weeks for a full recovery. The soft tissues around the extracted tooth's location take some time to fully heal, which may limit your diet and activities.
Ease of Procedure
In keeping with the above trend, root canals don’t usually take as much time for the procedure. Root canal therapy can be time-saving for patients since these procedures can be completed in one or two visits.
Tooth extraction procedures may take longer and may introduce further complications for patients.
Although it is highly dependent on your specific dentist or the surgical office you visit, tooth extractions are usually cheaper than root canals. Root canals typically cost more than $1000 per tooth. Extractions usually cost less than $500 per tooth.
However, keep in mind that the cost for extraction is just the cost of the pulling procedure. The above-estimated cost does not take into account the cost for fillings, false teeth, dental implants, or any other procedures or additions you may need after the fact.
Therefore, tooth extractions sometimes end up costing more than root canal procedures when all is said and done. Be sure to discuss the details with your dentist specifically, as they may have different rates than the above-quoted prices.
Is It Better To Get a Root Canal or Tooth Extraction?
It depends on a lot of things. Root canals and tooth extractions can both be effective therapies if you are suffering from severe tooth discomfort and pain because of bacterial infection.
You should ask yourself several key questions when deciding between a root canal or a tooth extraction:
- What’s your budget, with or without insurance? If you have a hard limit on how much you can spend, that might affect which procedure is better suited for your needs
- Do you care about retaining the original tooth? If so, a root canal is likely the best choice
- What does your dentist think? They might recommend one procedure or the other based on how far the bacterial infection has progressed. For instance, if your tooth is only mildly infected with bacteria in the roots, a root canal may be perfect. But if your tooth is filled with bacteria, and extraction may be the only real choice
- How much time do you have to take off work or for follow-up visits? Root canal therapy is now so comfortable and efficient that you can easily go after work one day and get it done in a single sitting. A tooth extraction may require you to take at least a few days off work
If you can answer several of these questions, you might be able to determine which of the two procedures seems like a better choice.
Why Do Dentists Recommend a Root Canal?
There are many reasons why your dentist might recommend a root canal treatment ASAP.
If left unchecked, bacterial infections in tooth roots can eventually spread to the rest of the tooth’s tissue, causing additional pain and discomfort. The tooth may eventually discolor entirely and become totally rotten.
Even worse, unchecked tooth decay can spread to the gums or the other teeth in your mouth. This can lead to further and more expensive dental procedures being necessary for you to recover.
In the worst-case scenarios, bacteria in the tissues of your teeth can eventually seep into the bloodstream. This, in turn, can cause severe illness and other medical complications.
Your dentist likely recommends a root canal treatment since it is a safe and effective therapy that can nip all of these potential effects in the bud. Root canal therapy is also usually effective enough for infected teeth that an extraction is not necessary, allowing you to keep the original shape of your smile.
The Bottom Line
In the end, it’s up to you whether you want to pursue a root canal or a tooth extraction if you have one or more infected teeth. Be sure to discuss your options in-depth with your dentist and see if they have any recommendations.
In the meantime, be sure to keep up with a high-quality dental hygiene routine. Your dentist will likely recommend that you practice better dental hygiene in the future to prevent more root canals or tooth extractions from being necessary.
You’ll need high-quality fluoride toothpaste, an electric toothbrush, and more. No need to check out multiple stores – you can find everything you need at Supersmile. Even better, Supersmile provides effective and unique dental tools, such as a toothbrush with a 45° angle head and toothpaste made with a proprietary whitening and cleaning ingredient called Calprox.
Have questions? We have answers! Check out all our info about top-tier toothpaste, toothbrushes, and more on our blog!