Rootless Fears: Root Canal Therapy Gets a Bad Rap

Root Canal Therapy

“Worse Than a Root Canal”

If you’ve lived long enough, you’ve likely heard someone compare the pain they’ve felt to the pain of a root canal. Before many people are likely old enough to even need a root canal, they’ve already formed an opinion about this treatment as something excruciating and to be avoided at all costs. While we do recommend avoiding the need for root canal therapy altogether, we can attest that this treatment in no way deserves its bad reputation, and we’d like to take a moment on this National Root Canal Appreciation Day to dispel those misconceptions.

Just What Is a Root Canal?

What most people refer to as a root canal is an endodontic treatment in which the infected pulp and nerve in the root of a tooth are removed, the root canal is cleaned out, the space is filled, and the tooth is sealed and crowned to restore the tooth to healthy function. Because this treatment preserves your natural tooth structure and bite, it’s much preferred to extraction whenever possible. Despite the bad publicity around the treatment, it functions to immediately alleviate tooth pain caused by rampant infection and often abscess at the tooth’s root. This helpful graphic shows the series of steps the dentist or an endodontist will take in preserving a tooth using root canal therapy.

What Causes a Patient to Need Root Canal Therapy?

There are numerous factors that can play into the kind of deep infection of a tooth that requires endodontic treatment. Oftentimes it is highly preventable tooth decay that makes its way to the pulp and roots of a tooth. In other cases, a patient has had multiple procedures done on a tooth that over time have led to the susceptibility of that tooth’s core to infection. Sometimes a chip, crack, or other injury to a tooth can lead to deep infection. There are even cases when a tooth has no visible signs of damage or decay, but a trauma has lead to pulp damage that necessitates root canal therapy.

What Are the Signs I Need Root Canal Therapy?

With regular dental visits, your hygienists and dentist will often be able to head off instances of deep infection and hopefully address the issue before root canal therapy is needed. But there are times when an infection flares up quite suddenly, and it’s good to know the warning signs so you can alert our office right away. Here are some of the most common conditions associated with infection of a tooth’s pulp and roots:

  • Cracked or chipped tooth
  • Sharp, severe pain when chewing or biting down
  • Tender and/or swollen gums
  • Abnormal bulging or formation of pimples on the gums
  • Darkening or decay of the gums
  • Keen tooth sensitivity to hot or cold

While none of these conditions is a certain indication that root canal therapy is needed, you should always alert us to them right away: Acting quickly can help to avoid further damage, infection, and the need for more extensive (and expensive) endodontic treatment.

Seriously, Will It Hurt?

If you had root canal treatment before modern techniques and anesthetics, it might’ve lived up to its reputation as a painful procedure. Today, however, most patients who undergo the treatment describe it as being relatively painless. We take great care to ensure our patients are fully numb and remain fully numb when a root canal (or any procedure) is performed. Progressing deliberately and skillfully and seeking constant feedback, your provider will keep you as free from pain as any other dental treatment. Many patients claim that root canal therapy was much more comfortable for them than fillings.

How Much Does Root Canal Therapy Cost?

The cost of root canal treatment will vary a good deal depending on the level of infection, the complexity of the case, and the tooth in need of repair. For example, molars are generally more difficult to treat, and the cost therefore tends to more. Broadly speaking, root canal is a much more cost-effective treatment than tooth extraction and replacement, since a bridge or implant will be called for to replace an infected tooth that’s extracted. Everyone’s situation is different, but our office will always be completely transparent and up-front when it comes to costs. For a little perspective, though: As of 2021, the average cost for root canal therapy for a front tooth was around $900, the average cost for a bicuspid was around $1,000, and the average cost for a molar was about $1,600.