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A root canal is a type of dental procedure used to repair a tooth without having to remove it.

When a tooth becomes severely damaged or decayed, the soft tissue inside of the tooth (pulp) can become inflamed or infected. This can happen when you have:

  • a very deep cavity
  • a tooth that’s been cracked, broken, or injured
  • a history of multiple dental procedures on a tooth

In a root canal, the pulp is removed from the tooth. The inside of the tooth, including the root canals, is then cleaned and disinfected to remove bacteria. After this has been done, the tooth is filled. A crown is then placed to help restore the affected tooth.

Root canals have developed a reputation for being unpleasant. However, they’re typically not any more painful than other types of dental procedures. Nevertheless, you may be wondering if there are any alternatives to a root canal.

Here, we’ll drill down on potential alternatives to root canals, what they involve, and when they may be appropriate.

There are several potential alternatives to root canals. Let’s explore each of them in more detail.

Direct pulp capping

Direct pulp capping is a type of dental procedure that can be used to treat severe damage or decay that exposes the pulp. A dentist may recommend it as a way to prevent having a root canal or tooth extraction in the future.

During this procedure, a material is placed directly over the exposed pulp. A couple examples of materials used for direct pulp capping are calcium hydroxide or mineral trioxide aggregate (MTA).

The application of this material creates a mineral barrier that can both help protect the exposed pulp and promote tissue repair. After the pulp capping material is applied, the tooth is then filled.

There are some catches to this, however. Direct pulp capping is typically only recommended when the exposure is minimal, and when the exposed pulp appears healthy and shows no signs of inflammation or decay. Additionally, it’s often most effective in younger people.


A pulpotomy is a procedure in which the pulp is removed. Similar to direct pulp capping, it can be done when the pulp has been exposed due to tooth decay or damage.

It’s important to note that a pulpotomy is different than pulp removal in a root canal (pulpectomy). This is because, in contrast to a root canal, in a pulpotomy the root canals and tooth nerve are preserved.

During a pulpotomy, the inflamed pulp is removed. A material is then added to the inside of the tooth to promote healing and prevent bacterial growth. Some examples of such materials include formocresol, calcium hydroxide, and MTA.

After this, the inside of the tooth is filled. A crown is typically placed to help restore the tooth and protect it from damage.

Generally speaking, pulpotomies are often done in children that still have their baby teeth or underdeveloped adult teeth, where the root is not fully formed. In adults, they are usually only performed as an emergency procedure to relieve pain until a root canal can be done.

If there are signs of infection or irreversible damage to the pulp, a pulpotomy isn’t recommended. In this case, a pulpectomy or extraction will be necessary.

Tooth extraction

Tooth extraction is when an entire tooth is removed. You may also hear this procedure referred to as having a tooth pulled.

An extraction can be recommended in cases where there’s severe tooth decay or damage. Often, your dentist determines that this cannot be repaired through other techniques, such as a root canal.

Some extractions are simple and can be performed at your dentist’s office. During a simple extraction, forceps are used grasp the tooth. Various movements are then used to loosen the tooth in its socket, allowing it to be removed.

Other extractions can be more complex and may need to be done by an oral surgeon. This often involves incisions and stitches. It’s possible that larger or hard-to-remove teeth may need to be divided into pieces before being extracted.

After a tooth is removed, several things can be used to replace it. Some examples include:

  • Dental implants: A dental implant is a fixture placed directly into your jawbone. After the area heals, an artificial tooth is attached to the implant.
  • Dental bridge: There are several different types of dental bridges. Generally speaking, they consist of an artificial tooth that’s attached to crowns designed to fit on the neighboring teeth.
  • Removable partial denture: A removable partial denture consists of an artificial tooth with a base that matches the color of your gums. It can be secured by fixtures that connect to neighboring teeth.

It’s normal to feel nervous or uneasy if your dentist suggests having a root canal, but it’s important to consider it. You can also ask about alternative procedures like pulp capping or pulpotomy.

If a root canal is recommended, it’s because your dentist believes that it’s the most effective treatment option. Based on an evaluation of your tooth, they’ve likely determined that other procedures may not be as appropriate or effective.

What about pain?

One of the main concerns many people have about root canals is that they’ll be painful. However, the discomfort you’ll feel from a root canal can be similar to that of other dental procedures, such as getting a filling.

Like many dental procedures, a root canal is performed using an anesthetic. This is a medication that dulls pain. Additionally, the technology used for root canals has also progressed over the years.

Look at it this way: Putting off a root canal can prolong the amount of pain or sensitivity that you may experience from a damaged or decayed tooth. Additionally, you may not be able to save your tooth the longer you wait.

What about just having an extraction?

You may have seen extractions promoted as an alternative to a root canal. This is because some may worry that a tooth that’s been restored with a root canal may not last, which requires another treatment or procedure.

While this may happen, in 90 percent of cases, a restored tooth can last up to 10 years. Practicing good oral hygiene after a root canal can help to keep your restored tooth healthy in years to come.

Additionally, there are several advantages to saving a tooth as opposed to having it extracted. For example, your tooth will retain its natural appearance as well as allow you to bite and chew effectively.

Lastly, cost is something to consider. Generally speaking, the cost of having an extraction and implant is significantly more than having a root canal.

The best way to prevent a root canal is to practice good oral hygiene. In order to do this, follow the tips below:

  • Brush: Brushing helps remove plaque from the surface of your teeth. Because plaque buildup can lead to tooth decay, aim to brush your teeth at least twice a day using a fluoride toothpaste.
  • Floss: Plaque can also accumulate in hard-to-reach places, which can include the spaces between your teeth. Try to clean between your teeth regularly using dental floss.
  • Cut back on some foods: Foods or drinks that contain a lot of sugar can contribute to tooth decay, so try to limit your consumption of candies, cakes, and soda.
  • Drink from the tap: If you’re thirsty, choose water from the tap instead of bottled water. Most tap water contains fluoride, which can help to keep your teeth healthy and strong.
  • Protect your mouth: If you participate in an activity or sport where your mouth may be injured, wear a mouthguard to protect your teeth.
  • See a dentist: See a dentist for regular check-ups and cleanings. Additionally, don’t hesitate to contact them if you’re experiencing symptoms like pain, sensitivity, or swelling.

A root canal is a procedure used to repair a tooth without having to extract it. It’s typically done when the pulp of the tooth has become inflamed or infected due to things like deep cavities or damage.

There are other procedures that may be done as an alternative to a root canal. These include pulp capping, pulpotomy, and extractions. Whether or not these procedures are appropriate depends on your specific condition.