Let’s clear up a common misconception: root canals aren’t torture. Their reputation as painful is vastly overblown. Instead, modern techniques make root canals one of the best ways to save damaged teeth, stop dental pain and prevent future problems.
Here’s a closer look at what root canals are, why you might need one and what the procedure is really like.
Root Canals Save Teeth
Root canals save teeth which are about to fall out. They clear out bacteria and infection from deep inside the tooth and root system. Plus, they help protect teeth against future damage.
Most of this potential damage starts with plaque. It’s a sticky film which is a natural by-product of sugary and starchy foods. Regular brushing and flossing can keep plaque at bay, but if too much plaque builds up, problems can occur. Naturally-occurring bacteria eat the plaque and create an acid, which wears away the enamel, or outer surface, of your teeth.
At first, the acid creates a small, shallow hole in your teeth called a cavity or carry. If identified early, cavities are fairly easy to treat. Your dentist can drill out the infection and fill the hole with a filling made from gold, silver, porcelain or composite material.
Fillings only work on relatively small cavities. Large cavities typically require a dental crown. It completely encircles a tooth (or dental implant). They restore both the function and look of a tooth damaged by a large cavity.
But sometimes the damage is too extensive for fillings or crowns. That’s where a root canal comes in.
When is a Root Canal Necessary?
Root canals treat serious internal tooth damage. Common reasons a root canal might be necessary include:
- Deep decay extending into a tooth’s roots
- Large fractures or cracks in the tooth
- Tooth abscesses
- Shrinking roots
- Fixing a failed, earlier root canal
Root canals treat problems affecting tooth pulp, which is the network of nerves and blood vessels inside your tooth. By the time pulp is infected or injured, tooth loss is imminent.
What is the Root Canal Procedure Like?
A root canal cleans and disinfects the inside of a damaged tooth. First, a small hole is drilled into the enamel to access the tooth’s internal chamber. Using special instruments, your dentist will then flush the chamber with an antiseptic solution.
Up to three roots might be removed. Front teeth have a single root, back teeth have two and upper teeth have three. Once all the bacterial infection and damaged roots are removed, the chamber is filled with a rubber-like dental material.
All the decay is gone but your natural tooth remains in place, which not only helps support your existing teeth but also creates the most natural-looking smile.
Is the Root Canal Procedure Painful?
Most patients experience only minor discomfort. Usually, only local anesthetic is needed, so you won’t be completely unconscious. If you’re nervous about dental work, most dentists will give you a mild sedative to help you relax.
You’ll need a ride home from the dentist. Expect to spend about two or three days at home relaxing. Over-the-counter pain relievers are usually all most patients need. Your diet will consist of soft foods and liquids. You’ll need to avoid crunchy and sticky foods for at least a few weeks.
How Much Does a Root Canal Cost?
Prices vary considerably based on the type of tooth and degree of damage. Out-of-pocket costs average between $500 and $1,000 per tooth. There are two main ways to lower costs:
Root canals are considered a major procedure, which means insurance typically covers 80% of the costs. However, most policies also have waiting limits. You’ll need to own the policy for anywhere from six months to a year before coverage will be authorized. Six months is a long time to wait if you need a root canal! Infections can spread throughout your mouth and the damaged tooth may become too damaged to save – it might even fall out – plus you’ll probably be in a lot of pain.
Dental discount plans are another option, although they’re not yet quite as well-known as traditional dental insurance policies. When you join a discount plan, you pay a monthly membership fee starting at around $10 (depending on the plan you choose). In return, you get access to a huge range of discounts on preventative, minor and major procedures including root canals. Over 110,000 dentists accept dental discount plans, including root canal specialists (called endodontists.)
If dental insurance can’t help you pay for a root canal, turn to a dental discount plan. They’ll not only help you save big, they can also help save your smile.