Root Canal vs Extraction: What Is Best for an Infected Tooth?

A concerned young man with dental pain at a dentist's office.

When a tooth is infected, it can be a painful experience. Inflammation inside the tooth can press on the nerve roots, resulting in pain and risk to your health. Infected teeth have two treatment options: root canal therapy or extraction. Here is what you need to know about root canal vs extraction for infected teeth.

Tooth infections can be caused by decay reaching the pulp or live portion of the tooth or from damage to the tooth. When bacteria reach the inner canals of the tooth, it is too late for a simple filling. The infection must be eradicated to stop it from spreading to other areas of the body.

When it comes to tooth extraction vs root canal for infected teeth, it depends on the situation. Pulling or extracting the tooth is always an option as it will remove the infection and stop the pain. However, most people want to avoid losing a tooth, if possible, which is when root canal therapy may be the best solution.

When to Choose Root Canal Therapy

Root canals are the only sure-fire treatment for infected teeth. If you have a toothache that has gotten worse over time with red or swollen gums, you may have an infected tooth. This means that bacteria have reached the inside of your tooth and the diseased material must be removed.

During a root canal, the interior of the tooth root or roots are cleaned and disinfected. The nerve roots and live pulp inside the roots are removed and the interior is disinfected. A dentist will then pack the empty root canals with a special material to stop further infection and reseal the tooth.

Once a root canal is performed, the tooth is “dead,” but still functional and in place. The nerve roots are removed, so the tooth with no longer feel pain. To protect the weakened tooth restructure, most teeth with root canals receive a dental crown.

If possible, root canal therapy is the best option for saving an infected tooth. This retains the natural tooth and root, and the tooth can last for decades with the protection of a dental crown. However, there are times when a root canal vs pulling tooth is not the right choice.

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Extracting an Infected Tooth

When is a tooth extraction vs root canal the better option? In some cases, it is the only option. If the infection inside the tooth has caused too much damage to the root, the tooth may need to be removed. If the structure is no longer viable, a root canal will not fix the problem so the tooth should be pulled.

There are other considerations when determining whether to perform a root canal vs pulling a tooth. For example, if the infected tooth is one of your wisdom molars, it may be more efficient to have the tooth extracted. Wisdom teeth are not necessarily needed and often need to be removed for other reasons.

Another reason a tooth extraction vs root canal may be considered is cost. A tooth extraction is usually less expensive than a root canal treatment. But, if you plan to replace the tooth with an implant or bridge, the cost is no longer a benefit.

When you must have the infected tooth removed, your dentist can discuss what options are available for restoration. If it is a front or noticeable tooth, a dental implant may be the best way to replace its appearance and function. Fixed or removal bridges are also options when an implant is not possible.

Never Ignore an Infected Tooth

When you have tooth pain, you should seek immediate dental treatment to determine if you have an infected tooth. Many infected teeth can be avoided by receiving treatment before decay or bacteria reach the pulp of the tooth. Even if you can tolerate the pain, it should not be ignored.

Tooth infections are more than just a risk to your tooth. If the infection spreads to your bloodstream, you will have more treatment to consider than just a root canal vs extraction. You will likely need both dental and medical care to overcome the infection that started within your tooth.

Both root canal therapy and extraction are effective at stopping the pain and spread of tooth infection. When possible, most patients and dentists agree that root canal therapy is the best option. It can be performed in one visit, putting an end to the tooth pain and stopping the risk of spreading the infection.
A dentist and a  satisfied young woman after dental treatment.

Treatment for Infected Teeth

When looking root canal vs pulling tooth options, consider what is best in the long run for your health. Most dentists will recommend a root canal to save the tooth when it is possible. Both treatments can stop your tooth pain, but only a root canal can retain your natural tooth.