Root Canals vs. Extraction

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Decide on a root canal or extraction based on the facts, not on feelings.
Decide on a root canal or extraction based on the facts, not on feelings. (Image: dentist image by Sandor Kacso from Fotolia.com)

Hearing "root canal" or "extraction" may send shivers down your spine. However, a smart dental patient should look logically at the pros and cons of each service before determining which procedure he will choose. Together with your dentist, compare the basics, such as the cost of the procedures and the restoration options, to decide whether an extraction or root canal best suits your needs.

Price

Prices for root canals vary according to who does the procedure. Usually, incisor root canals cost approximately $350 to $540 and molar root canals cost $520 to $800. If a specialist performs the procedure, costs go up about 50 percent. This cost doesn't include the restorative work after the canal. The costs for extractions range from under $100 to more than $300, depending on the location and severity of the problems. Overall, root canals are more expensive than extractions initially. However the restorative work involved in an extraction results in a more expensive procedure overall.

Problems and Solutions

A dentist may recommend extraction if your mouth is overcrowded. An extraction is also an option when the inner part of the tooth, the pulp, has become infected. If the infection is severe and antibiotics don't cure it, extraction may be the best option. People who have compromised immune systems may decide on extraction even if the tooth isn't infected yet. Root canals also can prevent an infection from entering the bloodstream, but they can't offer any solution for an overcrowded mouth.

Procedure and Recovery

For a root canal, the dentist X-rays the area to locate the infection and drills an access hole. Though the dentist usually administers a local anesthetic, the patient may not feel any pain regardless of whether an anesthetic is used because the nerve has died. He removes the debris with files and a solution, then either fills the tooth with medication to eliminate infection or immediately seals the tooth using a paste. Some root canals require more than one visit to clear up infection, but some can be completed immediately following the canal, a one-day procedure. For an extraction, the dentist will provide either a local anesthetic or a general anesthetic depending on the situation and number of extractions needed. She may cut away the gum and bone before removing the tooth with forceps, either whole or in pieces. Generally, an extraction will cause more pain for the patient than a root canal, often requiring stitches and a recovery period spanning several days. In comparison, a root canal's pain may be similar to having a tooth filled.

Restoration Options

After a root canal, the dentist usually crowns the tooth to protect it and restore it to full use. The dentist will discuss your tooth with you individually. Many root canals result in fully functioning teeth that last for a lifetime. For an extraction, the dentist may wish to fit you for a bridge, implant or partial denture. Using these will prevent the other teeth from shifting and restore more function to your teeth.

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