If you have a tooth that is suffering from decay or damage, it’s important to get it treated right away. Sometimes the first sign of decay is discomfort, so if you’re experiencing dental sensitivity it shouldn’t be ignored. Depending on how much the decay has affected your tooth, you may need a filling or root canal to restore it to good health. Here’s how to tell if you need a filling or a root canal and what you should know about each procedure.

What is Tooth Decay?

Tooth decay or a cavity happens when a hole forms in the outer surface or enamel of a tooth. If not treated in a timely manner, the decay can spread to the inner layers of the tooth and surrounding teeth. That’s why it’s important to see a dentist as soon as possible if you think you may have a cavity or damaged tooth.

What Will a Dentist Do?

When you see a dentist for tooth discomfort or concern about a potential cavity, your dentist will perform an exam of your teeth to inspect them for any signs of decay, fracture or other damage. They may also take x-ray images of your tooth or surrounding teeth to check for any damage or infection beneath the surface that may not be visible from the outside.

If a cavity is detected, your dentist will discuss with you your options for treatment, typically a filling or root canal. You can ask your dentist about how to tell if you need a filling or a root canal, but it is generally determined by the amount of damage or how deeply the damage has reached inside the tooth. Signs that may point to the need for a root canal include more severe or persistent tooth discomfort, tooth discoloration, swollen gums and a chipped, cracked or loose tooth.

How is a Root Canal Different from a Filling?

A filling is a simple procedure where your dentist uses dental tools to remove and clean the damaged area of your tooth, then fills it to seal it and help prevent future decay. A root canal is a more intensive procedure, because it is needed when the decay has reached deeper and affected the pulp or root of the tooth.

With a root canal, a dentist, or specialist in root canal therapy called an endodontist, will use special tools to remove the infected pulp of your tooth. Once the area is clean and empty, it will likewise be filled and sealed. The difference with a root canal procedure is that your tooth may need a crown, or tooth-shaped covering, to help protect and restore the tooth after it is filled due to the extent of the damage.

Schedule an Appointment

If you’re experiencing tooth discomfort, it’s important to see a dentist right away. Your dentist knows how to tell if you need a filling or a root canal and can point you in the right direction for treatment. They may also help by answering questions or concerns you may have about treatment so that you can feel confident about any needed procedures.

Call our Lee's Summit dental office to make an appointment with a dentist who may be able to help you find out more about this topic, and improve your oral health.