Root canals and fillings are both restorative dental treatments that treat tooth decay. Today, thanks to technological innovations both procedures take roughly the same amount of time for a dentist or endodontist to perform. Likewise, neither root canals nor dental fillings are painful procedures. Since fillings and root canals share so many similarities, what exactly are the differences between them? Read on to learn more.
Minor Decay vs. Significant Decay
A dental filling is used to treat a cavity. A cavity is a tiny hole that develops due to damage to a tooth, otherwise known as tooth decay. Cavities are some of the world’s most common health problems, and more than 90% of adults will experience a cavity at some point. When caught and treated with fillings early, minor damage to the tooth is brought to a halt.
However, when these tiny openings on the surface of the teeth are not treated, the tooth experiences further decay. If the decay reaches the interior of the tooth known as the pulp, severe inflammation or infection often sets in. If this is the case, the only option for treatment will be a root canal, also known as endodontic therapy.
To put it simply, a cavity is used to treat minor decay. A root canal is used to treat moderate to deep decay-causing severe inflammation or infection inside your tooth.
Root Canal vs. Dental Filling Procedures
There is a significant difference between a root canal and a filling when it comes to the actual procedure. Before you receive a filling, the area in your mouth near the tooth that needs to be filled will be numbed. Your dentist will then use a special tooth or drill to remove all of the decayed areas. The hole (cavity) will then be filled with one of several materials.
A root canal is a more involved process, which is why you may be referred to an endodontist. An endodontist is also a dentist, but they have undergone additional training and education to specialize in the study and treatment of dental pulp. Endodontists are experts in providing root canal therapy.
The root canal procedure will also begin with anesthetizing your mouth so that you do not feel pain. The affected tooth will then be opened so that the endodontist can access the interior of your tooth. The pulp of your tooth will be removed, and all of the canals inside your tooth will be thoroughly cleaned and disinfected. The canals and hole will then be filled with a putty-like substance that will seal your tooth and protect against reinfection.
In some cases, when the endodontist finds that you have a severe infection, your tooth may be medicated during the first visit, and you’ll return for a second appointment to complete the treatment. Once the pulp is removed, the tooth is free of infection and filled, you’ll return to your dentist to have a dental filling or crown put on your tooth.
Signs and Symptoms You Need a Root Canal
Although cavities that need a filling may sometimes produce mild symptoms, a tooth that needs a root canal will often produce more significant symptoms. Symptoms of deep decay and severe inflammation or infection in the pulp of your tooth include:
- Severe toothache
- Extreme pain when chewing
- Discoloration of the tooth
- Ongoing sensitivity to hot or cold foods or drinks
- Swollen gums
- Bumps on your gums
- Chipped or cracked tooth
- Tender gums
If you experience any of these symptoms, it is important to seek treatment immediately.