When a tooth is severely decayed or damaged, dental patients commonly ask, “Should I get a dental implant or a root canal?” Left untreated, the damaged tooth can continue to cause extreme pain as well as create further complications in the mouth. Should you have your dentist or endodontist perform a root canal to save the tooth, or is it simply better to remove the tooth and replace it with an implant?
There’s no one-size-fits-all solution to this problem; every case is different, and your dental health professional can discuss the details of your situation to help you decide which route is best for you. For now, let’s begin by describing and comparing both procedures, then discussing a few of the pros and cons of each.
What Is a Root Canal Procedure?
When a tooth is seriously damaged, dead or dying (whether due to a cavity or a broken tooth), the soft tissue (pulp) inside the tooth is compromised and typically infected. This pulp initially helps your teeth to grow and strengthen, but once a tooth is mature, the pulp provides hydration and sensation to the tooth. During a root canal procedure, the Dentist/Endodontist cleans out the infected pulp from the tooth and its roots, hollowing out the infected space. He then fills the open space with a biocompatible substance and sealant. Afterward, because the root canal leaves the tooth weakened and vulnerable, the doctor will cover the tooth with a permanent crown. The result is that the natural tooth is saved and protected, and the crown will function like a normal tooth. However, root canals are not permanent and may fail within a few months to years later.
What is a Dental Implant Procedure?
As an alternative to performing a root canal to save a dying tooth, your oral surgeon may also recommend extracting the tooth and replacing with a permanent dental implant. This procedure occurs in two stages. First, your oral surgeon will remove the bad tooth, clean out the affected area, bone graft the socket and maybe install a titanium post into your jaw bone in place of the tooth. A temporary tooth may be installed over the post. You will then be sent home to wait while the titanium post bonds to the jaw, during which time your permanent tooth will be manufactured. Several months later, you will return to the dentist to have your permanent implant affixed to the titanium post. Your new implant will function exactly like your natural tooth once did, and with proper care it can last a lifetime.
Pros and Cons of a Dental Implant versus a Root Canal
Is it better to get a root canal or a dental implant? There are advantages and disadvantages to each. From a pure standpoint of oral health, most dental professionals agree it’s best to save a natural tooth, if possible; on the other hand, keeping a natural tooth is not always worth the risk of recurring problems that could be prevented by removing it. Let’s look briefly at the pros and cons of both procedures.
Root canal pros
- Keeps the natural tooth: In cases where the damage is not severe, this may be the best option.
- Less expensive procedure: Root canals cost less than implants, and they are covered by most insurance plans.
- Less intrusive: The root canal and installing the permanent crown can happen over a couple of visits, and the entire procedure is complete within a couple of weeks.
Root canal cons
- Not a permanent solution: Crowns wear out and must be replaced every few years, which can actually cause the overall cost to go up over time.
- Risk of root canal failure: Root canal treatments don’t always work, and if your problem resurfaces, you’ll have to go through the procedure again.
Dental implant pros
- Permanent solution: Once the implant is in place, it looks and acts like a natural tooth, and with proper care it can last as long as your other natural teeth.
- Removes the threat: The damaged tooth is permanently removed so it can no longer cause other complications to your gums, jaw or other teeth. Implants preserve bone as well.
Dental implant cons:
- More invasive: The entire procedure takes at least two surgeries and several months to complete.
- More expensive: Not only is the procedure itself more costly than a root canal, but many insurance plans don’t cover implants, resulting in higher out-of-pocket costs.
Which Procedure Is Right for You?
In determining whether you should get a dental implant or a root canal, your oral surgeon will evaluate the particulars of your damaged tooth and discuss with you the risks versus benefits of keeping your natural tooth intact. If cost and insurance is a factor, you may want to choose the root canal procedure; if the tooth is beyond saving or if you simply want to eliminate the threat completely, a dental implant is the next best thing to a natural tooth, and many people prefer it because it resolves the problem permanently. To discuss your options, call Riverside Oral Facial Surgery at (706) 235-5570.