When most of us think of tooth decay, we think about the most common way of resolving the issue – typically by having the tooth filled by a dentist. But if decay is left untreated, or if a tooth is cracked and bacteria collects inside the tooth, the decay can reach the innermost portion of the tooth called the pulp. Once the pulp and nerves of a tooth are affected, the dentist will probably recommend a root canal in order to save the tooth. In most cases the only other alternative is to have the tooth pulled. In this article we examine the pros and cons of both procedures to help our readers with choosing between a root canal vs. extraction.
What You Should Know about Root Canals
When you are faced with the choice between a root canal and an extraction, you might be tempted to simply have the tooth pulled rather than go through the root canal procedure. This is understandable given the “bad rap” that root canals have had over the years. There are a variety of myths about this common dental procedure – including that root canals are extremely painful and that they can cause other health problems, both of which are completely false. The fact is that root canals are often the best way to save a tooth that might otherwise have to be pulled, and root canals actually have a better success rate in the long-term than extractions. This is because there are no future complications associated with a root canal, as opposed to an extraction (more on that later).
The Root Canal Procedure
The first thing to remember about root canals is that there is no need to be nervous about the procedure. Thanks to advancements in anesthetics and dental sedation, most patients feel very little if any discomfort whatsoever while undergoing the procedure. And although there can be some pain afterward, your dentist will provide you with a full set of instructions on how to effectively deal with any discomfort you feel while recovering at home.
The procedure begins with the dentist applying anesthetic to the gum tissue adjacent to the effected tooth along with dental sedation, if requested by the patient. Once those take effect, the dentist drills a hole into the tooth, removes the infected pulp, and thoroughly cleans out the nerve canals using instruments specially designed for this purpose. Part of this process involves applying antiseptic and antibacterial solutions to heal the infection and eliminate bacteria. The nerve canals are then filled with a thermoplastic material and, in many cases, a crown is affixed to the tooth to provide further protection and support to the existing tooth structure.
What You Should Know about Extractions
Having a tooth pulled may sound like a simple procedure, and often it is. But some extractions are more complicated. In fact, pulling an infected tooth can be very complex. Still, in some cases the dentist has no other choice rather than extracting a tooth. But if you are presented with choosing between a root canal and an extraction, it’s important to keep in mind that having a tooth pulled can lead to other issues afterward. In the short term, you’ll have to be very careful during the recovery process after having a tooth pulled. That empty space where your tooth once was can become a breeding ground for bacteria, and that can lead to infection. For this reason, you’ll be provided with a full set of instructions on how best to care for the extraction site at home after the procedure.
But there are other risks involved in having a tooth pulled over a longer period of time. Once you’re missing a tooth, the other teeth in your mouth will naturally shift in place in an effort to fill in the gap left behind by the missing tooth. This can result in a variety of dental problems, including overcrowding of teeth, overlapping teeth, and/or misalignment of teeth. For that reason, your dentist will most likely recommend replacing the missing tooth as soon as possible after your recovery from the extraction procedure is complete. So having one tooth pulled can lead to other issues – and other dental procedures – down the road.
The Extraction Procedure
As is the case with both root canals and extractions (and most other dental procedures, for that matter), the first step in the process involves the dentist applying anesthetic to the gum tissue around the affected tooth along with dental sedation of some type. The anesthesia will numb the area around the tooth and prevent the patient from feeling pain during the procedure, and the dental sedation will help the patient to remain relaxed and at ease. After those go into effect, the dentist will use a variety of dental instruments specially designed for this purpose to first loosen the tooth, then remove it entirely from the socket.
While it’s true that most patients don’t feel any pain during the extraction process thanks to anesthesia and sedation, most people do feel pain afterward at home during the recovery process. The dentist will supply a full set of instructions on “dos and don’ts,” as well as how best to take care of the extraction site. Most patients will have to restrict the types of foods they eat for a few days, as well as exercising caution when cleaning their teeth so they don’t disturb the empty socket. The dentist will also recommend a variety of ways to deal with the pain that patients feel while healing – methods that might include gently rinsing with warm saltwater, applying ice packs to the face, and/or taking over-the-counter or prescription pain medication.
Every patient is different, and choosing between a root canal vs. extraction will depend on a variety of factors. Although the vast majority of dentists would agree that it’s always preferable to keep your natural teeth whenever possible, extraction may be the only solution in some situations. Root canals, on the other hand, allow the patient to not only keep the affected tooth but also avoid all of the possible problems that arise as a result of having a tooth pulled. Your dentist can help you decide which procedure is the best choice for you.