surgical vs non-surgical root canal

Patients sometimes ask about the difference between a surgical vs non-surgical root canal. We hope this guide clarifies this for you and serves as a guide to help you make the best oral health decisions for yourself or your loved ones. After all, here at Ballantyne Endodontics, we believe in empowering our patients.

This article isn’t meant to replace professional dental or medical advice. We just hope it is helpful to patients who are considering root canal therapy after their dentist or endodontist recommended it.

Before clarifying the differences between surgical vs. non-surgical root canals, it helps to understand the purpose of a root canal in treating inflamed or infected teeth. So let’s dig in!

What Is a Root Canal? 

A root canal is a dental procedure intended to save a patient’s natural teeth. Either a general dentist or a specialist, known as an endodontist, may perform a root canal.

We like to think of your tooth like a Twinkie. That’s silly, we know, but stick with us! Imagine the cream inside the Twinkie (aka the canal inside your tooth) is dirty, so we need to replace that dirty cream with clean cream, then seal it back up. 

In the same way, an endodontist creates a small opening in the tooth during a root canal and removes the infected tissue. They thoroughly clean and disinfect it, then pack it with special dental-grade materials and reseal the tooth. After a successful root canal, the natural tooth stays intact and functional without the painful infection.

Endodontists and other modern dental professionals aim to avoid extraction whenever possible and to save the natural tooth. With your natural teeth intact, you maintain your normal bite and minimize extra stress to the neighboring teeth. Also, whenever there is an implant, there always is a small risk of the body rejecting it, so the root canal allows you to avoid this potential complication.

Root canals are a common dental procedure with a high success rate. According to the American Association of Endodontists, approximately 25 million root canals are performed annually in the United States. Most are successful; in fact, 89% of patients report feeling satisfied with their root canals. The likelihood of success is even higher with a skilled and experienced specialist like an endodontist. After all, we endodontists do root canals all day, every day!

Why People Need Root Canals

The main reason you might need a root canal is that the pulp within your tooth has become infected or damaged. This could happen because of an accident, injury, untreated cavity, or other reasons. If your tooth cracks or fractures, the opening might allow harmful bacteria to get inside the tooth and infect the pulp. Given the complexity of the tooth and all the situations that may occur in life, each case is unique.

Some signs you might need a root canal include:

  • Swelling in the gums surrounding a specific tooth.
  • Pain in the tooth.
  • Darkening of the tooth.
  • A cracked, chipped, or damaged tooth.
  • Sensitivity to hot or cold temperatures.
  • Pimples on the gum.

Surgical vs Non-Surgical Root Canal

Either a surgical or non-surgical root canal may relieve pain, heal you from infection, and save your natural tooth. That’s really our goal — to help you feel better and maintain your natural smile.

Your endodontist will advise you on the best option for you, depending on the extent of damage to your tooth, symptoms you experienced, and other factors. If you have any questions, feel free to ask your dental provider. (Really! We love it when you ask questions, and we’re here to help you.)

For a diagnosis, always see your dentist or an endodontist. Most likely, you will need a thorough examination, including imaging, to check for signs of damage or infection. Your dental professional might also perform a pulp vitality test.

If a general dentist suggests you need a root canal, consider asking for a referral to an endodontist. An endodontist specializes in saving the teeth and completes two or three years of additional schooling, as well as another certification beyond earning their DDS, like your general dentist.

What Is a Non-surgical Root Canal Treatment?

So now that we’ve covered what a root canal is and why you might need one, let’s get back to our original question: What is the difference between a surgical vs. a non-surgical root canal?

Although some people dread the concept of a root canal, the experience is in many ways similar to getting a routine filling for most people. This is especially true if you seek care from an experienced endodontist, who typically performs 25 or more root canals each week. There’s a reason they call us specialists!

During a non-surgical root canal, your endodontist applies a local anesthetic to keep you comfortable, then drills a tiny hole in your tooth. They thoroughly clean inside the tooth, removing the damaged or diseased pulp. After disinfecting inside the tooth, they replace the pulp with dental grade packing materials and reseal it. This will help keep the infection cleared from the area, so your mouth can heal.

Often a non-surgical root canal is needed to maintain your natural tooth and regain your oral health. However, some factors can make a surgical option a better and more conservative treatment plan for you. Also, occasionally a root canal fails, and a skilled endodontist needs to retreat the tooth with a surgical root canal. So let’s talk about what to expect in this instance.

What is a Surgical Root Canal Treatment?

When a non-surgical root canal wouldn’t be sufficient, sometimes a surgical procedure offers the best chance to save your tooth. Apicoectomy is a type of endodontic surgery.

During surgical root canal procedures, your endodontist will give you local anesthesia to ensure your comfort. Then they make an incision in the gum to access the canal from the side and safely remove any infected tissue, as well as the tip of the root. Next, they disinfect and clean inside the tooth, much like a non-surgical root canal treatment. Finally, your specialist will refill the tooth and stitch up the incision in the gums.

While this may seem like a lot of details, it is a routine procedure for specialists like us. Plus, we believe an informed patient is an empowered one. So we want to take the opportunity to reassure you that both surgical and non-surgical root canal treatments are highly effective at saving natural teeth and restoring wellness.

While you might worry that a root canal is painful, many patients find a non-surgical root canal is no more painful than a filling. In fact, we pride ourselves on how many of our patients actually fall asleep during their root canal! Regardless of whether you have a surgical vs non-surgical root canal, patients experience relief from pain after the procedure is successful and over.

The Journal of Endodontics found that more than 97% of people who had a surgical root canal had successful long-term results one to five years after the procedure. Patients who follow their endodontist’s recommendations, maintain daily dental hygiene, and avoid smoking typically have the best, long-lasting results.

Next Steps: Schedule an Appointment

Ballantyne Endodontics is proud to help Charlotte-area residents keep their natural smiles. Nothing looks or feels quite as good as your natural teeth. If your dentist recommends a root canal, we hope you consider seeing us for this specialized care. It truly is our passion!

Contact us today to schedule a consultation or ask your Charlotte-area dentist for a referral to Ballantyne Endodontics.