Endodontic Surgery vs. Root Canal: What is the Difference?

If you have a severe toothache, you may need to see an endodontist, who will be able to thoroughly examine your teeth to determine the source of the pain and the way forward. Depending on your needs, your specialist will consider endodontic surgery vs. root canal treatment and work with you to decide which option is right for your situation

What is an Endodontist, and When Should You See One?

An endodontist is a dental specialist who focuses on diagnosing and treating issues related to the inside of the tooth—specifically the dental pulp, which contains nerves and blood vessels. Endodontists are often referred to as “tooth savers” because their primary goal is to save natural teeth by performing procedures like root canals. Endodontists complete dental school, as well as additional years of specialized training.

Here are some of the most common treatments endodontists offer:

An endodontist’s goal is to relieve pain and discomfort, save natural teeth whenever possible, and restore wellness. According to the American Association of Endodontists, you may need endodontic care if:

  • You have a deeply damaged tooth.
  • You feel pain when you bite down or feel pressure on your tooth.
  • You notice pain or sensitivity when your tooth is exposed to hot or cold temperatures.
  • You notice swelling around a tooth.
  • Your dentist said you might need a root canal.
  • You have a pimple or bump on your gum.
  • You have a cracked, fractured, or chipped tooth.

What is a Root Canal?

Before we compare endodontic surgery vs. root canal treatment, let’s explore what a root canal is, as well as its benefits.

A root canal is a dental procedure designed to save a tooth that is badly decayed or infected. During the procedure, the inflamed or infected pulp inside the tooth is removed, and the inside of the tooth is carefully cleaned and disinfected. After that, it is filled and then re-sealed. The result is that you have a tooth that looks and functions like your natural tooth—since it is! Best of all, the pain will be gone.

The truth is, nothing feels quite right when compared to natural teeth. Each tooth supports the neighboring teeth, and it’s difficult to reproduce the way they naturally fit together. That’s why root canals are such an excellent procedure—because they save so many natural teeth.

Plus, despite the common misconception, modern root canal treatments are rarely any more painful than routine fillings. Today’s root canal draws from technologies that didn’t exist decades ago. Imaging tools make it easier than ever for endodontists to see the minuscule root canal structure that is barely visible to the naked eye. In addition, other specialized technologies like the GentleWave Procedure effectively clean the inside of the tooth for a higher likelihood of success and less post-procedure discomfort.

Both general dentists and endodontists may perform root canals. However, endodontists are often more experienced in performing root canals than general dentists. For instance, according to the American Association of Endodontists, an endodontist typically performs 25 root canals a week, while most general dentists perform around two a week.

What is Endodontic Surgery?

Endodontic Surgery, often referred to as an apicoectomy, is one of several specialized dental procedures performed by an endodontist. It’s typically done when a conventional root canal treatment isn’t sufficient or possible. 

During an apicoectomy, the endodontist makes a small incision in the gum tissue. The cut exposes the bone and the surrounding inflamed tissue. Your endodontist removes the damaged tissue along with the end of the root tip. A filling is then placed to prevent reinfection of the root, and the gum is sutured. Over time, the bone heals around the end of the root.

According to the American Association of Endodontics, endodontic surgery also sometimes makes it possible for your specialist to find hidden canals or minor fractures that are sometimes undetected with traditional X-rays. In addition, the Journal of Endodontics says more than 97% of patients who had an apicoectomy had successful long-term results.

Endodontic Surgery vs. Root Canal: How to Know Which—If Either—You Need

A root canal may be the first endodontic treatment option after your endodontist identifies the diseased or damaged tooth. When a root canal is suggested, it may be the best alternative to losing the tooth.

However, endodontic surgery may sometimes save a tooth when a previous root canal is unsuccessful.  

Some form of endodontic surgery may be necessary if:

  • The initial root canal treatment fails, or there is an infection.
  • If the patient appears to have hidden canals or small fractures that don’t show on an x-ray.
  • The root canal may be cracked or fractured too badly.
  • The patient has problems in the bone tissues surrounding the tooth, such as a serious infection.

The best way to learn which option—endodontic surgery vs. root canal—is best for you is by seeing an endodontist. A thorough examination helps a skilled endodontist diagnose the problem and find the right way to save the tooth.

Your general dentist can refer you to an endodontist if they find that you need a root canal or other specialized endodontic care during an examination.

Schedule an Appointment With an Endodontist

Ballantyne Endodontics proudly serves the Charlotte, NC community. Our team seeks to relieve pain and restore health. Our founder, Dr. Sonia Chopra, is a board-certified endodontist who strives to save natural teeth. She and our team take the time to understand our patient’s symptoms and to help them understand their treatment options. 

Contact us today to schedule an appointment or to learn how to request a referral from your general care dentist.