A root canal can be quite expensive, although it's less expensive than the alternative of removing the tooth entirely and placing an implant. However, there is another alternative that can sometimes be a better, less expensive alternative to root canal therapy. It's called pulp capping.

Direct Pulp Capping

If the pulp of the tooth is exposed, perhaps during the removal of a cavity, the dentist may recommend a root canal if the pulp is very infected. However, if the pulp has little or no infection, what's known as a direct pulp cap can make it possible to save the tooth at a minimal expense. The area can be disinfected, then a capping material is placed on top followed by a bonding material and the restoration of choice. Because the materials used for this procedure when it was first developed had a high failure rate, it isn't always considered by dentists, although there are now much more effective materials available. The success rate may now be as high as 92 percent.

Indirect Pulp Capping

Should the pulp not be exposed, a liner can be placed over the area and then the bonding and the restoration applied, which is called indirect pulp capping. Indirect pulp capping tends to be successful more often than direct pulp capping. Dentists will sometimes stop during the process of removing cavities if they are getting close to the pulp and perform this procedure in an attempt to save the tooth without having to subject the patient to a root canal. If the procedure doesn't work, then a root canal will be necessary in the future. However, pulp capping is about 8 to 10 times less expensive than root canals and 10 to 15 times less expensive than removing the tooth and placing an implant topped with a crown, so it's often worth a try.

Root Canal Options

When a root canal is necessary, it's usually possible to do it without surgery, although in some cases, it's necessary to make a small cut in the gums to make it easier and safer for infected tissue to be removed. In most cases, the patient feels pain and gets to a dentist while it's still possible to perform a root canal without surgery. Then the process is sort of like having a very deep filling. It usually isn't very painful and there's very little risk of any problems occurring after the treatment. You may need to take antibiotics for a short time, and you'll usually need to have a temporary crown placed during the first appointment and come back another day for the permanent one, although some dentists now offer same day crowns to make this process even easier.


Simply pulling an infected tooth is sometimes considered an alternative to root canal therapy, but this isn't recommended. Missing teeth make it more difficult to talk and chew and can cause other teeth to shift and develop problems. To avoid this, some type of restoration will be necessary, and the entire process of extraction and replacement typically costs more than a root canal would. It's always considered better to save the original tooth if possible. Keep in mind that people are living longer, and tooth restorations only last so long -- with a bridge lasting about 5 to 7 years and the crown topping an implant lasting about 10 years -- so removing a tooth will mean that you'll be paying multiple times for whatever tooth replacement alternative you choose over your lifetime.

For more information, contact a local dentist, such as Jeffrey S. Thaller DMD.