“Root canal” is one of those dental phrases that sounds scary.
But it’s actually one of the best, most cost-effective ways to save a tooth.
And it’s one of the least painful.
“If it is done well AND is properly taken care of, it can last decades,” says Austin Dentist Samantha Hollinger, DMD. “It’s a safe way to keep your natural tooth, which is generally better for your health.”
Because the “pulp” of the tooth has been damaged by trauma, deep decay, or repeated procedures on the tooth. The tooth pulp is the soft area within the center of the tooth that contains the nerves and blood vessels that feed the tooth.
Damaged pulp can begin to break down and provide a breeding ground for bacteria, leading to an infection or an abscess.
“Once an infection has gotten to the center of the tooth, it can become extremely painful and the tooth begins to die,” says Dr. Hollinger. “Necrotic material and bacteria can also cause bone loss and spread infection elsewhere throughout the body, so it’s important to treat right away.”
Rather than pull a tooth with damaged or infected pulp, a root canal allows you to keep that tooth by removing only the pulp and nerves that extend down through the roots. This is done by drilling into the tooth and scraping out all of the damaged pulp.
Don’t worry – this is one time getting a tooth drilled won’t actually hurt. In most cases, the nerve is already dead, though most dentists will still numb the area around the tooth.
Once all the pulp is removed, the inside of the tooth is sterilized. If the tooth was infected, an antibiotic medication is applied, and a temporary filling is placed over it. Once the infection clears up, the tooth is filled with a compound all the way down the root canal, and then with a permanent filling on top. Finally, the tooth is protected with a crown or restored if it is cracked or otherwise too weak to withstand normal chewing.
“Once you remove the blood supply, your tooth becomes brittle and fragile,” explains Dr. Hollinger. “And because you’ve also removed the nerve, you have no idea how hard you’re biting down, so it becomes even more susceptible to fracture.”
A crown protects your tooth from cracking after a root canal.
Dr. Hollinger advises people who may need a crown to ask about the crown materials used at a given dental practice.
“I choose lithium disilicate or a zirconia ceramic crown and I tend to avoid metal except for gold,” she notes. “It’s partly for the aesthetics, but also because a lot of metal products are a mix of chromium, aluminum, cobalt, and sometimes nickel. A lot of people are allergic to aluminum and nickel. Ceramic crowns these days are so, so strong that there’s really no reason to use metal.”
A root canal is one of the lowest-cost options for treating an infected or cracked tooth. Most insurance policies cover the procedure, but cost without insurance runs from $350 to $800, depending on the type of tooth. Some teeth have one root, while others can have four roots.
Remember, if you don’t have insurance, you do not have to go without care or obtain your own plan in order to maintain your oral health. The TRU Dentistry team created the TRU Club so patients without insurance can get the care they need at an affordable price.
The alternative to a root canal is having the tooth extracted and replaced with a bridge, implant, or removable partial denture to restore chewing function and prevent adjacent teeth from shifting. These alternatives are more expensive than a root canal, and they require more treatment time and additional procedures to adjacent teeth and supporting tissues.
Though pain is one of the symptoms of an infection, it’s not the only indicator. Sometimes there are no symptoms at all. Some signs of infection include:
Keeping your own teeth is always the goal, making root canal the top treatment choice. It costs less than replacement and usually only requires routine daily maintenance of brushing and flossing, along with regular checkups and cleanings.
Contact TRU Dentistry Austin or call 737-203-8538 any time of day to schedule a consultation. The TRU Dentistry Austin office is open and our team is ready to help you maintain a healthy smile!