How to Recognize & Prevent Root Canal


You wake up to feel an intense toothache that just throbs. No matter what you do, the pain will not subside. You’ve even taken some painkillers and the pain won’t go away.

You check your teeth. The gums don’t feel swollen. The tooth that is hurting doesn’t feel sensitive. In this situation, there is a good chance that you have a tooth that is severely infected.

Although the pain of an infected tooth can be terrible, the thought of going to the dentist is even worse. They’ll stick you with needles there. They bring out that nasty drill to plug away at your teeth. Then they use that nasty tasting stuff while smiling at you and saying that, “You’re almost done,” for about an hour straight.

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Having a root canal performed in never fun. It can be a costly experience. Contrary to what many may say, however, the goal of a root canal isn’t to torture you or force you to read magazines that are 6 months old.

The whole idea of paying the high root canal price is to save the tooth. When performing a root canal, the dentist will remove bacteria from the tooth and any dead or dying tissue that can be found within the structure of the tooth.

When to See the Dentist About a Root Canal

In many cases, a root canal is treated as a dental emergency because of the pain that it causes. Most offices will schedule you for a same-day or next-day appointment when you tell them about the symptoms you are experiencing.

A root canal is recommended any time a tooth is suspected of having a deep infection. Bacteria can get into the pulp of the tooth for a variety of reasons, including an injury, and these causes the severe toothache. Even a cavity in the tooth can lead to such an infection.

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If left untreated, an infected tooth can become problematic enough that it must be extracted. If the infected tooth is not extracted, the crown of the tooth may break off, leaving the root tips under the jaw line. The infected tooth can even destroy some of the bone that surrounds the tooth and spread to other teeth.

It may also cause a tooth abscess if left untreated.

Any time you are experiencing severe pain from a toothache, a consultation with a dentist is recommended. In many cases, the recommendation from the dentist, after examination, will be to complete a root canal.

How to Recognize a Tooth Abscess

A tooth abscess occurs when there is a pocket of dead white blood cells, called “pus,” that forms a pocket that begins to swell around the tooth. An abscess can occur along the gum line, at the bottom of the root, or any other region on the tooth.

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You will notice swelling because of the abscess. There is a good chance that you’ll be experiencing severe tooth pain at the same time. You may also notice these symptoms accompanying your toothache.

  • Fever
  • Tooth sensitivity throughout the mouth
  • Pain when chewing, biting, or breathing through the mouth
  • Swelling in the cheek or face
  • Swollen lymph nodes in the neck or jaw
  • Foul breath

The swelling from an abscess can be so severe that it may burst on its own. If that occurs, you will taste a salty fluid in your mouth that smells bad and tastes worse. The pain will also subside almost immediately, but may begin to return.

If you notice an abscess or believe you have one, it is considered a dental emergency. Schedule an appointment immediately.

For those who have a fever or swelling in the face and a dentist cannot be reached, then the next best option is to go to the nearest emergency room. If you have trouble swallowing or breathing and an abscess is suspected, then seek immediate medical attention as this could be an indication that the infection has spread from the tooth to other parts of the body.

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Common Facts About Root Canal That Aren’t Really True

There’s no denying the fact that a root canal is an inconvenient procedure. It can also be a costly procedure. Yet avoiding a root canal can be a greater expense over the long-term when compared to the short-term expense of taking care of that offending tooth right now.

If you wait too long to pay the price of a root canal, it may become impossible to save your natural tooth.

Here are three common facts that are often associated with root canals, but they aren’t true.

#1. Root canals are very painful. Root canals are painful not because of the treatment, but because of the infection that is present. Dentists will administer an anesthetic to help reduce the pain that is being experienced. Painkillers may be offered to deal with severe pain as well. Then the discomfort that is experienced during a root canal is similar to what is experienced when a cavity is being repaired. There may be moments of pain, but nothing compared to the throbbing of the root canal.

#2. Root canals make you sick. If you’ve researched root canals, then you’ve likely come across forums and blog posts talking about how this procedure increases the likelihood of becoming sick. It is not true. Not having a root canal is more dangerous than having one because the infection in the tooth can spread. If it enters the bloodstream, a serious event called “sepsis” is possible.

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#3. Extracting the tooth is a better option. Tooth extraction is an option if you can’t afford the cost of a root canal right now and something needs to be done. Whenever possible, it is a good idea to save your teeth. Implant technologies have improved dramatically in the last generation of dentistry, but the cost of an implant is even higher than having a root canal and won’t put stress on your neighboring teeth.

If you do have an infection, a dentist will not usually extract a tooth until the infection has been resolved. You will be given a prescription for an antibiotic and told to return in a week or two. In comparison, a root canal can treat the offending tooth right away so that you can leave the office feeling better immediately.

In some cases, you may also be able to have the infection drained from the tooth upon your first visit. By draining the swelling caused by the infection, you can experience some immediate relief.

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What Happens During a Root Canal?

A root canal tends to follow a 4-step process. For most people, it will require two visits to the dentist’s office to complete the process. Here is what you can expect to have happen if a root canal has been recommended to treat your tooth pain.

Step #1: Anesthesia. To prepare the tooth for a root canal, the dentist will administer a local anesthesia. This will numb the tooth after several minutes. There may be a sharp pinch or prick that can be painful when the needle is inserted to administer the anesthesia. Once the tooth has been numbed up, a small rubber sheet may be placed around the affected tooth. This is called a “dental dam” and will keep the tooth dry and clean during the root canal.

Step #2: Accessing the Tooth. Your dentist will then use dental tools to access the infection in the tooth. This includes the dreaded drill. The inside of the tooth must be accessed so the infection, bacteria, and dead or dying tissues can be removed. Once the opening is created, small files are used to remove damaged pulp from the tooth. The inner chamber of the tooth is filed and rinsed as well. Depending on the infection, a solution or paste might be placed inside the tooth chamber to kill off the remaining infection or reduce the risk of a future infection.

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Step #3: Filling the Tooth. Once the tooth chamber has been cleaned and then dried, it will be filled. Most dentists use a material that is called “gutta percha.” This material is a thermoplastic substance that comes from the latex of trees found in Malaysia. When heated, it can form a hardened, permanent filling for the teeth.

Step #4: Placing a Permanent Crown. A restoration is then placed on top of the tooth portions that have been saved. Depending upon the severity of the infection, a post may need to be placed within the root chambers to provide a stable foundation for the restoration. Most root canals have a “crown,” or artificial tooth top, placed on top of the saved root and the amount of natural tooth that remains.

It is not unusual for a temporary crown to be placed on top of a finished root canal before the final permanent crown is placed in position several weeks later.

When the tooth is properly treated, restored, and cared for, a root canal is a procedure that has a high rate of success. To ensure success, you’ll want to brush your teeth at least twice per day. Flossing at least once per day can be beneficial as well, but be careful to avoid catching the floss in any ridges of the new crown for the first few days after the fourth step is completed.

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Then visit the dentist about twice per year for regular cleanings and inspections. Try to avoid chewing any hard food items that may cause the tooth to break after the procedure has been completed as well.

What Is the Expected Cost of a Root Canal?

The idea of having a root canal completed can be painful for a variety of reasons – and not all of them involve the drilling and filing of a tooth. The root canal costs to expect can be quite painful to your budget as well. Since most root canals are an unexpected expense, it becomes a priority to find an affordable provider near you that can provide this service.

The expected root canal cost varies by the provider offer the service. Numerous factors go into the pricing of this service. That includes geographic location, available insurance, and even which tooth requires the root canal.

According to Nerd Wallet, who obtained reasonable price estimates from FAIR Health, the average prices of a root canal procedure in the United States are as follows, within the 80th percentile of national pricing.

  • Root canals on the front teeth average $929 per procedure
  • Root canals on the bicuspids average $1,054 per procedure
  • Root canal cost on molars average $1,300 per procedure

Pricing is typically higher in urban areas and lower in rural areas. In the United States, pricing for a root canal is highest along the East Coast and lowest in the Pacific Northwest. A root canal that costs over $1,300 in Washington, DC will cost less than $700 in the Seattle Metro area. Pricing in the U.S. Midwest tends to be the most consistent and competitive, with rates routinely between $600-$800 per tooth.

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Keep in mind that this the root canal cost for the procedure only. In most cases, a crown will need to be placed on the tooth or a filling will need to be used to stabilize the tooth. Should the filling need to be used only, then up to $500 more must be added to the final cost of the root canal.

If a dental crown is required to finish the procedure, then it may cost up to $1,300 in most locations.

That places the final cost of a front tooth root canal at just over $1,400. A root canal on a bicuspid will be above $1,500 for many people. And if the root canal must be performed on a molar, then the cost could be close to $2,000 for some people.

Are There Any Alternatives to Having a Root Canal Performed?

The idea of spending $2,000 right now on an unexpected root canal is understandably bothersome to many households. Many families don’t even have that kind of cash in their savings account right now. That makes it a priority to search for treatment alternatives that can resolve the pain issue and restore oral health without the same cost investment.

The most common alternative to a root canal is a tooth extraction. For most people, the need to have a root canal completed is due to tooth damage, such as cracked enamel, in the first place. The cost of a standard tooth extraction is usually around $100. That will remove the offending, painful tooth and then an implant, bridge, or partial denture can be replace the missing tooth at a later date.

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The cost of the new implant, bridge, or partial is comparative to the cost of having a crown installed. The advantage of taking this two-step approach is that it allows individuals and families to save up for the replacement, limiting the damage to the budget.

There are three additional alternative treatment options that are sometimes recommended when a root canal is not preferred. It should be noted that none of these alternatives are considered as effective as a visit to the dentist for a formal treatment.

  • Ozone – Ozone gas can be used to irrigate the tooth cavity. Its caustic nature helps to remove the infection in the tooth because it kills the bacteria causing it. That may enable a dentist to save the tooth without needing to perform a full root canal. There is no guarantee, however, that the infection will stay away. If the crown is damaged, bacteria can easily return.
  • Calcium Hydroxide – This substance deters the growth of bacteria. If the tooth canal is flooded with a solution of this alternative, it can remove dead tissues and reduce the risk of future infection. It is toxic, however, so drilling into the tooth and using a needle or file for disbursement is required.
  • Diet – Infections typically thrive in high-sugar environments. If you change your diet to eliminate processed sugar and grain products, focusing on proteins, fruits, and vegetables, the pain of a tooth infection can be reduced or eliminated. Changing a diet, however, will not repair the tooth. Rinsing with coconut oil may whiten the teeth, but is not a guarantee to stimulate repairs either.

The alternatives to a root canal can buy you some time before going under the drill for a full repair. It is the root canal infection, not the actual drill, that is usually the source of pain during this procedure. Whenever possible, the root canal is the best option.

How to Prevent Root Canals in the First Place

The best way to avoid root canal costs that are unexpected is to prevent them from happening in the first place. Preventing dental infections may not be 100% effective, but there are certain actions you can take to reduce your risks of developing an infected tooth or worse. That begins by scheduling two visits each year with your dentist. That way you have an up-to-date scan of your teeth, a professional cleaning, and exams that can determine any problem areas.

Following good oral hygiene practices is the first and most basic step that can be taken to prevent an infection from forming. Get into the habit of following these steps every day so you can have a happy and healthy mouth.

1. Try to brush your teeth after every meal. If that is not possible, make it a habit to brush twice per day.
2. Floss your teeth at least once per day. Focus on areas within your mouth that are difficult to reach with the toothbrush.
3. Use the correct toothbrush for your teeth. You can damage the enamel of your teeth if you overbrush using a toothbrush that has bristles which are too hard.
4. Avoid using your teeth to open packages, break strings, or chew nails. Teeth are incredibly strong, but they are designed for food.
5. Watch for the signs and symptoms of infection within your mouth, especially if you’ve had previous dental treatments.

If it has been some time since you’ve regularly brushed your teeth, then you may experience bleeding from the gums after you use your toothbrush. This is an opening where bacteria can enter and begin to cause an infection. Regular brushing can cause bleeding gums to subside, but you’ll want to keep the area as clean as possible until the gum disease can be brought under control.

Reducing the Cost of Root Canals: Is It Possible?

One of the most effective ways to reduce the budgetary impact of a root canal is to look for available payment plans. Some dentistry offices will setup payment plans for you so that you pay the office directly on a monthly basis. You may also be able to find a signature loan on a short-term basis that allows you to pay for the root canal now, but then pay the lender a monthly payment for a specific time period.

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Monthly payment plans are easier on the budget, but they also cause the cost of a root canal to be higher with the associated interest. You may pay $200-$1,000 more for your root canal on a payment plan, depending on how long the financing is for and what your interest rate happens to be.

If the goal is to reduce the actual cost of the root canal instead of paying for it in a budget-friendly way, then you have two primary options available to you: dental insurance and dental discount memberships.

For most dental insurance plans, a root canal is treated as a medically necessary procedure. That means it will be covered, even if you go to see the dentist on an emergency visit. Dental insurance is a common benefit offered by employers, but can also be obtained individually or through group associations. Expect to pay up to $50 per month if you don’t have employer-sponsored dental coverage.

The benefit of dental insurance is that most plans will cover most, if not all, of the cost of the root canal. Some plans may have deductible thresholds that must be reached, co-pays that must be paid, and percentage payouts, but you’ll still pay less than if you were to pay for the root canal as an out-of-pocket expense.

Dental discount memberships are an easy way to save some money on any dentistry treatment you may need. Many memberships are free to join. Then you present the membership card to a participating dentist to receive a specific discount. As an added advantage, many discount memberships apply to an entire family without a contract or a commitment.

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The best discount memberships, however, do tend to come with an annual fee. Many are available for about $200 per year.

Some premium discount plans may help you be able to save up to 50% off the cost of a root canal, including the cost of the crown. That makes the investment into the membership pay for itself with one root canal in many instances. Your dentist will have rates that can be shown to you if they are part of the membership network so you can know exactly how much you’ll need to pay.

You have these additional options to think about if you’re looking to save some money on the root canal you may need:

  • Talk to your local dental school. Dental students often need to practice their skills and are still authorized to perform the work. A supervising dentist will be present while the procedure is performed. In return for being a “case study,” you can often receive a substantial discount on the root canal.
  • Check coupon and discount websites. Dental providers often advertise deals and specials, especially for first-time customers. Check group coupon sites, local discount sites, or just speak with the dentist’s office to see if there are any deals available to you. Be sure to check the local weekly flyer that is put in your mailbox too because there can be some outstanding discounts in there.
  • Ask for a cash discount. Most businesses offer a discount of up to 10% for services rendered if you pay in cash and dentists are no exception. If you don’t want to carry that much cash with you, ask the office if they’ll accept a check instead. You might be asked to pick up a cashier’s check from your bank or credit union so the funds are verified.

Be Proactive and You Can Save on Root Canal Costs

Root canals are not the cheapest service you’ll ever receive from your dentist, but it could be one of the best investment you make into yourself. When the dentist can save your natural tooth, your oral health will benefit. You won’t need to pay the added costs for a full implant. Your smile will remain the same. You can be in and out of the office on the same day for the initial treatment as well, which means the toothache can go away.

Having tooth pain is bad enough. Your budget shouldn’t be hurting too.

Make sure you get seen sooner rather than later. Outside of the crown manufacturing costs, the labor it takes to scrape out an infection with files is the largest cost you’ll face. An extensive infection will require more time to clean out, which means you’re going to pay a higher root canal cost.

Have an appointment scheduled at the first moment you feel pain. If it turns out you don’t need a root canal, then you’re in even better shape financially than you thought you were.

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There are times when a root canal cost will be higher than what is quoted in this guide, even when all variables are taken into account. This usually occurs when a tooth that has been given a root canal in the past requires a second one for some reason. Re-treatments are a little higher in most cases because the crown may need to be removed before the infection can be treated.

In some cases, a root canal fixed with a filling may now need a crown, which means an added cost from the first treatment as well.

Root canals will never be described as a fun experience: by patient or by dentist. With a little planning, it can at least be an experience that you can afford.