Should You Choose An Extraction Over A Root Canal?

If you've recently been informed you'll need a root canal to save your tooth, you may be tempted to simply have this tooth extracted -- particularly if you're dealing with a wisdom tooth or molar that won't be greatly missed. However, extracting a salvageable tooth can lead to long-term dental and health consequences. How can you determine whether an extraction or root canal is the right choice? Read on to learn more about the differing effects of these treatments to help you make the right decision for your situation.

When do you need a root canal?

While an extraction is generally only performed on teeth that are crowding the rest of the mouth -- like wisdom teeth -- a root canal is recommended for any tooth where the root is dead or dying. Your tooth's root can be damaged by an untreated cavity, an injury, or an infection. While some of these issues can be easily treated if caught soon enough, in other cases the root may be too damaged for your dentist to even attempt to salvage. An infected or damaged root isn't always painful, and it may go unnoticed until observed on a dental X-ray.

If this is the case, a root canal can remove the root from your tooth, allowing the dentist to fill in this empty space with a sealant and place a crown over it to mimic the appearance and function of your natural tooth. This will prevent the root from becoming infected (which can lead to a bone infection in your jaw) or causing you future pain. You'll usually need to visit the dentist at least twice for this procedure -- once for the root canal and fitting of a temporary crown, and once for the installation of your permanent crown. 

What are the differences between a root canal and extraction? 

When the root of your tooth is already dead, an extraction isn't much more painful than a root canal -- and this procedure is generally much cheaper. A dental extraction can run anywhere from $75 to $300, but the vast majority (75 to 80 percent) of these costs may be covered by your dental insurance if the extraction is done due to a damaged or dying root. If you don't have dental insurance, this cost can sometimes be negotiated even lower. Meanwhile, a root canal will usually cost at least $200 and can cost as much as $2,250, depending upon your geographical location and the type of tooth you're having treated. You'll pay another $600 to $1,400 for the crown to cover your tooth, although your dental insurance may cover some of these expenses. 

It can be tempting to save money and avoid multiple trips to the dentist by simply having the tooth pulled. However, this procedure comes with its own potential side effects and long-term consequences. Even if the tooth is not in an area easily seen when speaking or smiling, it could affect the appearance of surrounding teeth as they "spread" in your jaw to cover the missing space. It may become easier for food to get stuck in the crevices between teeth, where it can harbor bacteria that will lead to cavities. And without having another surface to bite against, the tooth opposite your missing tooth may become damaged and eventually require removal (or a root canal) itself.

While there are some situations in which an extraction is warranted, this is a decision that should not be made solely due to financial factors. Extracting a tooth that can be saved fairly inexpensively through a root canal can cause problems down the road, making this a penny-wise and pound-foolish decision. 

For more information, you can go to sites of local dentists, or contact a dental clinic in your area.