Dental Fillings and Root Canals – What’s the Difference?

dental fillings and root canals - what's the differenceHave you been told your tooth requires root canal therapy, and you wonder why a simple, less-invasive dental filling wouldn’t suffice? Though most cavities can be effectively treated with a dental filling, many tooth infections are so severe by the time the patient seeks treatment that root canal treatment is the only hope of saving the tooth.

The difference between restorative dental fillings and root canal treatment is a matter of degree. Depending on your specific needs, your dentist can perform either procedure to restore your tooth’s health and integrity when afflicted with tooth decay.

Mild to Moderate Cavities

A cavity describes a hole in your tooth that forms as oral bacteria eat away at your tooth’s structure. When a cavity is detected at the tooth’s main structure, or dentin, your dentist can often successfully treat the tooth by removing the decayed structure and replacing it with a dental filling. After the cavity is thoroughly cleaned and sterilized, your dentist will reinforce the tooth with a discreet dental filling that will blend in with your smile while protecting its interior from further infection.

If decay works through the dentin and reaches the tooth’s inner chamber, or pulp, then the infection can kill the tooth’s nerves and blood vessels, and then spread through its roots to the jawbone and tissues surrounding the tooth.

Pulp Infection

A tooth’s living tissues, or pulp, are connected to the tooth’s roots, which extend underneath the gums and into the jawbone. Root canal therapy is a procedure that involves removing the infected pulp from a patient’s tooth, then cleaning and sealing the tooth’s roots to prevent the spread of infection. Contrary to popular belief, root canal treatment is a conservative procedure that relieves severe tooth discomfort, and neglecting treatment can lead to the loss of your tooth.

If an abscess, or pocket of infection, forms at the end of the tooth’s root, it can destroy the tooth and damage the jawbone around the tooth’s socket. In extreme cases, root canal treatment may not suffice, and a tooth extraction and replacement may be necessary to preserve the rest of your smile.