If you have a deep cavity or cracked tooth, your dentist may suggest a root canal or extraction to combat the problem. The severity of the injury to your tooth will determine which procedure you need to undergo. Although they are often thought of as interchangeable, root canals and extractions are very different procedures.
What is a root canal?
A root canal is a dental procedure done to repair an infected or damaged tooth without removing it completely. During the procedure, the damaged part of the inside of the tooth is removed. Then the remaining part (the pulp) is cleaned and disinfected before the tooth is filled and sealed. Root canals are called as such because the pulp is affected and the canals inside the root of the tooth are worked on to repair the trauma.
What happens during a root canal?
A root canal is a complex procedure that starts with an X-ray. This will show the dentist where the damage inside the root is located. You’ll be administered local anesthesia on the affected tooth so that you don’t feel anything while it’s being worked on. The next is a pulpectomy where an opening is made through which the damaged pulp can be extracted.
Finally, the opening is filled with a material called gutta-percha and sealed with cement. Gutta-percha is used because it causes no harm to the tooth and is made from the coagulated latex of certain trees. Your dentist may place a crown on top of the tooth to ensure proper healing. In terms of sensation, a root canal is akin to getting a filling because there is minimal discomfort associated with the procedure.
What is tooth extraction?
Extraction is the removal of the entire damaged tooth as opposed to just the traumatized root. During an extraction, the injured tooth is removed from its socket within the bone.
How is tooth extraction performed?
Extractions come in two forms: simple and surgical. A simple extraction involves local anesthetic being applied to the area before your dentist loosens the tooth with a dental instrument known as an elevator. Then, forceps are used to cleanly remove the tooth. You may feel some slight pressure when the tooth is removed but the anesthetic will ensure that there is minimal discomfort. Simple extractions are only done when the infected tooth can be seen in the mouth.
On the other hand, when the damaged tooth is not seen from the mouth because it hasn’t erupted yet or it has broken off at the gum line, surgical extraction is necessary. For this type of procedure your dentist will refer you to an oral surgeon (if they do not possess this specialty training) so that the tooth can be surgically removed. Light bleeding in the 24 hours following an extraction is expected and there may be some swelling. However, this will subside fairly quickly if you use ice packs to help with the inflammation.
What is the difference between the two procedures?
There is one major difference between the two procedures: A root canal aims to save the damaged tooth while an extraction removes it completely. Your dentist will evaluate the damaged tooth to determine which procedure will best suit your situation. One of the main reasons why someone will need an extraction over a root canal is when the tooth’s structure is compromised. When only the pulp is compromised and it can be safely removed, a root canal makes sense because the bacteria that can lead to an infection will be excised as well. Conversely, when a cavity or crack in the tooth is so deep that it extends below the gum line and renders the tooth weak, extraction is necessary.
What happens if a tooth is extracted?
After a tooth is extracted, your dentist can replace it with a dental implant. This is essentially a false tooth that looks and feels like a real one.
Implants are fused to your jawbone with a biocompatible material that causes no harm to the body. If you do not replace an extracted tooth you will see problems.
Missing teeth cause chewing and speech issues and loss of lip support. Moreover, when there is a gap due to a missing tooth, the adjacent teeth can drift into the empty space leading to further damage and tooth decay. Food can easily become trapped in the space and cause the growth of bacteria that creeps its way into the gums.
Finally, the area where the tooth has been extracted is subject to bone loss and can lead to the deterioration of the facial structure in that area (sunken cheeks).
The only way to know if you need a root canal or an extraction is to visit your dentist. For more information about our dental procedures or to make an appointment, please contact us.