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Many people dread having a root canal, expecting the treatment to be a painful ordeal. But if your dentist says you need one, chances are your tooth is already painful due to a crack, cavity, or infection.Despite its reputation, a root canal treatment can actually ease your toothache. With luck, it won’t hurt your wallet too much, either. Read on to learn more about the procedure, the pros and cons of having it done, and how much it’s likely to cost you.
What is a root canal?
A root canal treatment is a nonsurgical procedure for repairing a cracked or infected tooth. A dentist who works below the tooth’s surface — known as an endodontist — performs it. The purpose is to remove bacteria and the dead or dying tissue inside the tooth. The larger goal is to preserve the tooth, so that it won’t need to be extracted.
At the beginning, the endodontist examines your tooth’s condition and discusses it with you. After that, the procedure usually takes place in two steps:
Removal: You get a shot of anesthetic to numb your mouth. The endodontist then drills your tooth to expose its pulp, which is the soft tissue at its center. They remove the infected pulp with small files and clean the canals (passageways) within the tooth’s root. The endodontist may add a temporary filler for the tooth roots or a top seal to guard the tooth.
Restoration: Within a few weeks, you’ll likely visit your regular dentist, rather than the endodontist. You’ll get a permanent filling or a crown (artificial tooth) to protect the cleaned root and the rest of the tooth.
In general, root canal procedures don’t differ much other than in the tooth’s location — front teeth, molars, or bicuspids (the teeth before your molars). If you’ve had a previous root canal in a tooth, it will be re-treated. The dentist removes any previous restoration work and does a deeper investigation and cleaning of the canals.Some newer treatment devices include dental water lasers or ultrasonic energy to clean the canals. The makers of these devices assert that these modes lead to faster healing and fewer appointments.
How much does a root canal typically cost?
Root canal costs depend on several factors, including:
The tooth’s location in your mouth
Whether you’re seeing your regular dentist or a specialist, such as an endodontist
Whether it’s a first-time root canal or a retreatment (a second root canal on a previously treated tooth)
Whether it’s an emergency or scheduled root canal
Whether you need a crown
Whether your insurance covers part or all of the procedure
Where you live
Front teeth are easier for the dentist to access, so root canals there are less expensive. Bicuspid or premolar teeth are the teeth before your molars. As you might expect, they tend to be more costly than front teeth and less costly than molars. On average, the cost of a root canal treatment on a front tooth is around $1,000; for bicuspids, it’s about $1,100.
Molars, in the back, are harder to reach and clean. Root canal treatments in those teeth typically cost the most. Prices are usually $1,300 to $1,600.
Having your tooth re-treated is a complex and time-consuming process. The dentist removes existing filler materials and searches for additional issues with the tooth. Expect to pay an additional 18% to 20% on top of the basic root canal price, depending on tooth location.
Averages aside, the factors above can cause prices for a root canal to range widely. Typically, the range is roughly $700 to $2,100.
If these prices are too steep for you, financing dental work is possible. You’ll end up paying interest along with your dental bill, though. For example, CareCredit is commonly accepted, but, outside of its promotional offers, the card charges interest at an annual percentage rate of 26.99%.
It’s wise to investigate lower-cost options. Consider getting care from dental schools that offer endodontic training. A root canal treatment is often far less pricey in a student or resident clinic — perhaps half the cost of the procedure at a private practice. You may need a referral from your dentist to access treatment at a dental school.
What’s included in the cost of a root canal?
The price of a root canal procedure typically covers all visits, including:
X-rays or other imaging
Procedure or treatment of the root
However, you may need to pay separately for the consultation. Also, the root canal’s price likely doesn’t include final tooth restoration, such as a new filling or a crown.
Your dentist may recommend a crown if the root canal is in a molar. A dental crown supports the tooth and increases its likelihood of survival. The average cost of a crown is $1,300, but prices vary with the materials used. Crowns may be metal, ceramic, zirconia (a type of ceramic), or porcelain fused to metal.
Is a root canal worth it?
If you’re dealing with tooth pain, a root canal is one of two viable options. The other option is pulling the tooth altogether, which could then lead to a costly dental implant.
Here are the advantages and disadvantages of having a root canal.
Saves your natural tooth for cosmetic reasons and everyday chewing
Relieves swelling, toothache, and intense tooth sensitivity to cold or heat
Compared to extracting and replacing the tooth, could involve less time, expense, and risk to nearby healthy teeth and gums
Is more likely to be painless than an extraction
May require two or three 90-minute visits
May involve taking antibiotics after the procedure if the infection spreads
Could result in issues such as tooth loss or fracture, nerve damage, or infection
May lead to discoloration of the tooth
Questions to ask a dentist or endodontist about your root canal
As noted above, root canal costs can vary, so before you make your decision it’s prudent to compare pricing and ask questions. Questions might include:
How many root canals do you perform each day or each week?
How many visits will my root canal take?
What are some possible issues I could face in my situation?
Do I need a crown? How much will that cost?
Is the root canal covered by my insurance?
What are my out-of-pocket costs likely to be for this root canal?
Does insurance cover a root canal?
A dental insurance policy is likely to cover 50% to 80% of the root canal’s cost after you’ve met your deductible. If you need a crown, though, your insurer may pay a smaller share of that cost.
There may be other limitations, too. In some cases, coverage may depend on meeting certain clinical criteria, such as a destroyed tooth structure that requires a crown. Also, you may come up against your plan’s annual maximum benefit — typically $1,000 to $1,500.
Traditional Medicare doesn’t cover most dental procedures. Part A may cover certain dental treatments you get while in the hospital, however, and may also pay for your hospital stay. Some Medicare Advantage plans offer basic or comprehensive dental coverage. Root canals and endodontics are generally in the comprehensive dental coverage package. Check your policy documents for coverage details, including any plan limits.
Medicaid’s coverage of emergency and comprehensive dental benefits varies by state, as there are no federal requirements. Most states offer emergency dental coverage under Medicaid. Fewer than half offer comprehensive dental coverage, the type that includes root canals.
How long do the effects and benefits of the root canal last?
A root canal is intended to provide permanent relief. But sometimes the tooth needs attention months or years later, because it has again become infected, inflamed, or otherwise painful.
This can happen due to:
Failure of the initial treatment to clear up the existing infection or inflammation
A new infection
A damaged tooth or crown
Waiting too long to add a needed crown
In this case, endodontic surgery could save the tooth through re-treatment. The endodontist removes your crown and any restorative materials and reopens access to your tooth’s interior for deep cleaning and investigation. Then, the endodontist refills the canals. However, the endodontist may refer you for endodontic surgery if your canals aren’t accessible for proper cleaning.