My Tooth Is Killing Me!
“You need a root canal!” the dentist says, “that’s why you woke up today with your eye swollen shut and your face out to here.”
“No, it can’t be!” you reply, “Son-of-gun!”
A root canal is not on anyone’s list of favorite things to do, especially yours. You’ve heard it joked about constantly, being compared to countless other dreaded tasks we face. Unfortunately, it’s all too common. But, if you have severe dental pain, it’s a treatment option worth talking about. And your conversation needs to be thoughtful as your health is at stake, in both the short-term and the long-term.
Where did the pain come from? Usually it’s from a deep cavity, tooth decay or the more proper, fancy dental term, caries. They are all referring to the same thing. Cavities allow bacteria in your mouth to get deep into a tooth until the nerve gets infected and the tooth begins to die.
Cavities, are the primary dental cause of a root canal but, a blow to the face fracturing your tooth and exposing the nerve to mouth bacteria is another common scenario. Even a hard blow that just loosens a tooth slightly can eventually, even years later, lead to nerve death, pain, infection and root canal treatment considerations. Sounds a lot like the recent Tiger Woods scenario.
Cavities, are insidious, slowly creeping toward the nerve, weakening your tooth, and eventually causing severe damage. Frequently you have no warning pain. None! So when toothache pain comes on, like being hit with a ton-of-bricks, you will do almost anything to stop it. Even then, stop! Take a breath and think through your decision completely.
The Real Root Canal Costs
Root canals or root canal therapy as dentists refer to it, have a number of costs associated with them. Consider all the costs carefully.
First, you have the financial considerations. Costs vary all over the map. Literally. Root canals have a broad cost range depending on where you seek services. On 5th Avenue in New York City you’ll pay more because it’s an expensive place for your dentist to practice. Council Bluffs, Iowa is less expensive, but if you are not living there already, you’re stuck. Root canals are not an inexpensive dental procedure.
Second, there are the complete treatment considerations. A root canal is often the first step in series of steps necessary to provide a longer term solution for your underlying problem. So ask you doctor to give you a complete estimate including all of the follow-up treatment costs.
Third, and here it gets a little sticky because it’s a controversial topic, root canals are thought by some to be responsible for a variety of serious degenerative health conditions. Wow! We certainly don’t talk about that in dental circles. What will that cost you? It’s hard to say for sure. This is where you need to be your own health advocate and do some serious research. More on this later.
General Dentist Versus The Specialist
General dentists, usually charge less than specialists for root canal treatment. If the doctor providing the service has a specialty education degree in root canal treatment, he’s called an endodontist (endo-inside, dontist- tooth doctor). That’s two years of extra training to learn how to clean out the inside of a tooth. His fees will be higher than a general dentist in the same area, but his “success” rate, using standard dental criteria, will be higher too. Failures occur even with the extra training and you will never hear a guarantee of “success.”
Steps To Fix A Tooth With A Root Canal
Even though your painful toothache can be relieved with a root canal as a first step, that may not be a complete long-term solution. Much depends upon why your root canal was needed in the first place.
If you needed one because of infection from severe decay, a series of steps will need to be completed for a long-term solution. Each step has a separate cost associated with it. Be sure to have your dentist explain ALL of the steps required to put your tooth or teeth back in good shape.
Your dentist should describe the necessary steps to you after your examination:
1.) Remove all of the decay from the tooth and evaluate whether it is a good risk to restore. Are the gums healthy and in good shape? Is there enough tooth remaining?
If NO, consider removing the tooth and replacing it with an implant or bridge at a future date.
If YES, do the root canal procedure and continue to the next step.
2.) Root canal (the root canal filling procedure).
3.) Reinforce the damaged tooth structurally.
You are fortunate if only a tooth colored filling is required. A more extensive reinforcement, or a core buildup, is usually necessary as a middle step, with severe decay or a fractured tooth.
4). Fabricate a crown (or cap) restoration.
This step will provide a strong restoration that will fit with the other teeth and provide a good color blend.
All of these steps must be completed successfully to expect a good result. If you skip one or more, it will probably come back to bite you (pun intended).
Root Canals Can Fail
They are not cheap. They are not perfect, and they do fail.
A root canal is an attempt to salvage a dead or dying tooth. The process always leaves behind small amounts of dead or dying nerve tissue that a variety of bacteria can feed on. Even microscopic amounts can be problematic. In spite of your dentist’s best efforts, this residual nerve tissue may result in treatment failure due to infections that show up years later.
This residual dying tissue and the bacteria feeding on it have been implicated in a number of degenerative health conditions according to Dr. Mercola, who expounds on the potentially deadly health costs of root canals. His site says that if your immune system is operating at 100% these bacteria may be held in check. But if an accident or illness compromises your immune system the bacteria can multiply and spread. A holistic dentist can advise you of these additional potential health “costs” that can be a major concern so you can make an informed decision.
Be aware, if the root canal fails, everything attached to the root is compromised as well and may require additional treatment expense. Each of the additional steps outlined above has a risk of future failure associated with it, so ask your dentist to estimate those risks for you.
Keep in mind the same habits that created your original pain problem can certainly cause more damage unless changes are made. A “successful” root canal treated tooth can still get new cavities resulting in the eventual need for your tooth’s removal. If your root canal treated tooth fails, requiring its removal, you are faced with additional costs of tooth replacement or the costs of going without.
An infected tooth can often be treated with a root canal to relieve pain. It is an attempt to salvage a dead or dying tooth. Root canal costs vary based on where you live and whether you have a general dentist or a specialist provide the treatment. A root canal is often only the first step in the process of making your tooth useful and reliable. Root canals can and do fail and there is never a guarantee of success. Some doctors believe that root canals are associated with disease and serious degenerative health conditions. Hundreds of thousands of root canals are provided by dentists each year that meet the dental educator’s criteria for success.