The Truth About Root Canals – Treatment, Cost & Pain
Toothaches can be extremely debilitating. They can start as a result of:
- An infection within the tooth
- An infection involving the gum surrounding a tooth
- An inflamed tooth that may be related to a large cavity or deep filling
- Trauma to a tooth
And a number of other causes.
There are circumstances whereby a filling or other “simple” measure is not enough to resolve a toothache. Your dentist may suggest a Root Canal procedure.
A lot of patients dread the words “root canal”.
There is a lot of inaccurate information out there. We try to educate our patients with facts so that they can make an informed decision regarding their teeth.
So why do you need a root canal and what exactly IS a root canal?
Within a tooth lies nerves and blood vessels.
In effect – each tooth is a living structure like any body tissue.
When the tooth is irritated (eg. By a cavity, filling, night time grinding, etc) the nerve within the tooth (or root canal) is traumatised. Over time, the nerve can become super-irritated and be extremely sensitive to a glass of water or something warm. Sometimes these irritated teeth feel worse lying down at night.
Other times, the nerve may react by dying. The tooth may no longer react to cold or hot like it used to, but over time the ‘dead’ tooth will become infected, resulting in toothache.
At this stage we have two options:
- Root canal procedure
- Removal of the tooth.
The decision to complete a root canal vs to extract a tooth depends of several factors including position of the tooth in the mouth (ie. Front tooth vs back molar), affordability, function on the tooth etc.
You will need to discuss the pros/cons with your dentist.
What is a root canal treatment?
A root canal procedure involves the cleaning and disinfection of the middle part of the tooth (the ‘root canal’) following by filling of the space with material designed to seal the tooth and prevent infection.
The purpose of a root canal is to allow you to KEEP the tooth.
As mentioned, the alternative is removal of the tooth- and where required, replacement of the tooth.
What happens during the procedure?
Root canal treatments are generally done over 2-3 visits, with 30 minutes to over 1 hour being the general treatment time (depending on complexity).
Your dentist will numb the tooth (as per a regular filling).
A rubber dam is placed over the tooth – preventing any disinfectant or dental material entering your mouth, while keeping bacteria (from Saliva) out of the tooth.
The dentist carries out the procedure – cleaning, disinfecting, shaping and finally filling the root canal/s.
Front teeth have 1 root canal, molars often have 3/4 root canals (thus take longer and are generally more complex).
Will my tooth last now that its had a root canal?
Root canal procedures have good success rates. If we feel your tooth will not last a good amount of time we will generally not recommend a root canal, and suggest extraction and replacement.
We can control part of the success by completing high quality work and providing a strong and durable restoration of the tooth. Root canals can fail as a result of missed canals, leaking fillings, bacteria left behind in the root canals, cracks/fractures and many other reasons.
For long term success – meaning restoration of function, aesthetics, keeping the tooth – we will advise on the best type of restoration for the top part of the tooth.
For a molar – this may be a crown or ”cap”.
Your dentist will factor this in when providing a quote.
A couple of myths regarding root canal procedures
1. Root canal procedures are painful.
Root canal procedures are mostly done to relieve pain or prevent pain from arising. This may be due to an inflamed tooth, an infected tooth or trauma to a tooth.
The majority of patients will experience no pain during the procedures, and generally significant improvement in their symptoms after the procedure.
It is similar to having a regular filling done, whereby we use local anaesthetic to numb the tooth. As the procedure may be considered more “invasive”, your dentist will often administer a larger dose of anaesthetic, to minimise the chance of any discomfort.
The perception that root canal procedures are painful is likely to have stemmed from procedures and techniques used in the past. Thankfully, technology has changed and root canal procedures are nothing to be feared!
2. Root canal procedures are expensive.
When a dentist suggests you require a root canal procedure, it is generally advised in order the save the tooth – the only alternative is often extraction of the tooth and replacement.
Certainly, an extraction is generally cheaper than a root canal procedure – this is, if you plan to NOT replace the removed tooth.
If you want to replace the tooth – either a bridge, implant or denture is required which are generally more expensive options than a root canal.
You also have to weigh the benefit of being able to keep your own tooth vs having something ‘prosthetic’ in your mouth.
The price of a root canal depends on the number of canals in the tooth. For example, a front tooth often has only one root canal whereas a molar tooth may have four. Molars will be more expensive due to the amount of time required and additional instruments. For our root canal fees, see our PRICING page.
Finally, if a root canal is recommended and we feel it is beyond the capability of a general dentist to complete treatment, we can refer you to an ”endodontist” or root canal specialist.
If you have been told you need a root canal or think you may need one, request an appointment today.
– Dr. Sean