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Are There Alternatives to Root Canal Treatment?

Dentist showing teeth xray to patient

Root canals are a common dental procedure that can allow patients to keep a tooth that would have otherwise been extracted. The treatment deals with infection inside the pulp of the tooth, the soft tissue underneath the enamel, and dentin. Some patients try to find alternatives to root canals, but their options are generally very limited.

What Happens During a Root Canal?

A root canal treatment involves removing the pulp and nerve tissue inside a tooth and filling the resulting cavity. The procedure is meant to treat or prevent infection of that tissue. Every mouth has plenty of bacteria, which is perfectly normal. However, these bacteria cause major infections if they can get past the enamel and into your teeth.

The bacteria can get inside your teeth if the tooth is severely damaged or decayed. An untreated cavity can eventually reach the pulp. A cracked or chipped tooth can also expose the pulp. In either case, a root canal is necessary to prevent infection.

In some cases, the issue is only discovered once the infection has already occurred. In these cases, the root canal removes infected tissue and prevents future infections.

The dentist will make a hole in the top of the tooth and use dental tools to remove the pulp inside. Special files are used to remove tissue within the root canals, the spaces inside the roots from which the procedure takes its name.

After that, the tooth is filled with a similar material that is used for regular cavity fillings. In some cases, a dental crown is applied at the same time to provide a stronger surface after the procedure. This is particularly common when the root canal affects the molars.

Alternative Root Canal Treatment Options

The simplest alternative to having a root canal is to extract the tooth. The goal of the standard root canal is to prevent infection, and removing the tooth certainly does that. However, the point of the root canal is to allow the patient to keep their tooth.

Even though patients might not like the idea of a root canal treatment due to some common misconceptions, it’s a far better option than removing the tooth. There won’t be any impact on your eating or speaking, and you won’t have to worry about other teeth shifting over time due to the gap in your teeth.

However, sometimes a root canal isn’t a viable option, and a tooth must be extracted. In these cases, patients can get dental implants to replace the tooth. This involves surgically implanting a post in the jawbone to serve as a base for a crown or bridge.

Direct Pulp Capping

If the pulp has become exposed because of tooth decay, then direct pulp capping may be an option. This treatment is very similar to a conventional filling, but a special material is used to seal the exposed pulp. Conventional filling material is then applied over that seal, filling the rest of the cavity.

This treatment can work but is generally restricted to cases of incredibly minor pulp exposure. There is also a chance that the area is already showing cases of infection, in which case this treatment will not work.


Another potential alternative root canal treatment is a pulpotomy. This is a procedure that removes the pulp but doesn’t remove material from inside the tooth root itself. A significant amount of pulp is removed, but the roots are left untouched.

After the pulp has been removed, the space inside is filled with a material that helps prevent bacterial infection. The remainder of the hole is filled with conventional filling materials, or a dental crown may be necessary.

This type of procedure is generally used only when the roots can’t be accessed or as an emergency treatment to relieve pain when a root canal can’t be performed right away. Most pulpotomies are performed on children who still have their baby teeth.

Taking the Best Possible Care of Your Teeth

The best way to find out whether you can get alternative treatment instead of a root canal is to consult your dentist. If you’re dealing with symptoms like toothaches, difficulty chewing, or inflamed gums, you could have an infection. A root canal may be necessary to avoid extraction, and it’s always best to find out sooner rather than later.

You can count on Dr. Brett Langston and the staff at Dental Implant and Aesthetic Specialists of Atlanta to provide for all of your dental needs. We find the most effective treatment options for our valued patients and expertly perform these dental procedures. You can contact us today to book an appointment.