Root canals and tooth extractions are two procedures dentists can use to treat teeth that are damaged or infected in some way. And although comparing root canal vs. extraction can prove to be a difficult decision, learning more about both methods can help you choose.
When Can Teeth Be Saved?
Root canals can be used to save teeth that have damaged, diseased or dead pulp, but are otherwise viable to your mouth. The pulp is the innermost layer of your teeth, providing healthy blood flow to each one, but it can become damaged if you crack your tooth or develop a deep cavity. Both of these situations allow bacteria from your mouth to reach your pulp, which can lead to infection, swelling or the dying of the pulp’s vital tissue.
When Should They Be Extracted?
Sometimes your dentist simply can’t save a tooth, and it needs to be removed. This may be the case if you have a very large cavity that compromises too much of your tooth’s structure, making it too weak to repair. If your tooth has a severe fracture, extraction may be the best option here as well. A tooth with a crack that extends down below the gumline, explains the American Association of Endodontists (AAE), is a prime candidate for removal.
If the tooth is severely damaged, infected or near a vital structure like a nerve or the sinus cavity, a surgical extraction will be necessary. A surgical extraction is a more complex procedure that requires sectioning of the tooth and bone. For this particular procedure you should see an Oral & Maxillofacial Surgeon, dental specialists who has additional surgical training to handle more complex procedures. Sometimes depending on the case sedation maybe necessary.
Root Canals: Procedure and Aftercare
Root canal treatment is fairly simple: After numbing the area, your dentist will make an opening in the affected tooth, then remove the diseased or dead pulp. Once the pulp has been removed, the pulp chambers will be carefully cleaned to make sure there’re no bacteria left behind. The pulp chambers will then be filled with “gutta percha,” a dental material that replaces your damaged pulp. A crown may be placed on top of the tooth to help restore its appearance and strength. Multiple visits are often required for your root canal, depending on your precise situation.
After your procedure, it’s normal to feel some pain for a few days. This pain can vary from a dull ache to sharp or acute pain, but you should be able to manage your discomfort with an over-the-counter painkiller. If your pain is too intense for personal treatment, or if it goes away and then returns, don’t hesitate to see your dentist.
Tooth Extraction: Procedure and Aftercare
If you ultimately need the tooth extracted, your dentist will first numb the area so you don’t feel any discomfort during the procedure. Next, they’ll use a lever-like appliance known as an elevator to loosen your tooth while it’s still in its socket. Forceps will then be used to officially extract the tooth. You can expect to feel some pressure while this is happening, but nothing that takes away your overall comfort level. Again, depending on the case, sedation maybe necessary.
After your tooth has been extracted, according to the American Dental Association (ADA), you’ll bite on a piece of gauze for up to 45 minutes to clot the blood flow that naturally occurs. Light bleeding for about 24 hours after the procedure is normal, as well as a bit of facial swelling, but rest assured you can use ice packs to help reduce the inflammation. When eating again, stick to soft, cool foods that don’t irritate your extraction site, and as you heal you can gradually get back to your regular diet.
In general, it can take at least two weeks for the extraction site to heal, during which time you should brush gently to avoid further irritation.
Making Your Decision
After examining your diseased or damaged tooth, your dentist will recommend the most appropriate treatment method based on their professional judgment. Talk to your dentist about any concerns you have with their recommendation. If you’re worried that a root canal will be very painful, your dentist will reassure you that the pain is short lived compared to an extraction.
Root canal vs. extraction can be a difficult choice, but your dentist can help you determine the right choice for you and your tooth.