How Much Does a Root Canal Cost and When Should You Consider It?

Root canals have been performed for the past 2,300 years. From the Israelis to the Romans, cultures around the world have treated infected and badly decayed teeth for millennia. Treatment today is much different than it was thousands of years ago. With modern medicine and technology, it is more comfortable and effective than ever. You may wonder how much all this advancement in dental care translates into a root canal cost.

If your dentist recommended a root canal, you may wonder what it is. Today we will discuss the history and present treatments of tooth infections when you should consider a root canal, the factors which drive the root canal cost and how you can save money on the treatment.



What Is a Root Canal?

The root canal of your tooth is the cavity occurring naturally in the center of your tooth. Inside the root canal is a soft area known as the pulp or pulp chamber and the tooth's nerve. The nerve of the tooth is not critical to the health of a tooth once it has emerged through the gums. Its sole function once your tooth has grown in is to provide hot and cold sensations. Its absence will not affect the way the tooth functions.

A Root canal is also the informal name of endodontic treatment. Endodontic is derived from two Greek words meaning internal or within (endo) and tooth (dontic). Without an endodontic treatment, abscesses may form, and the tooth's surrounding tissue will become infected.

Root Canal Alternative

You may worry about the root canal cost. Unfortunately, the only alternative, the extraction of the infected tooth, is much more expensive. It also requires more treatment time and further procedures to supporting tissues and adjacent teeth. The extracted tooth must be replaced by an implant, bridge or removable partial denture to prevent adjacent teeth from shifting and restore chewing function.

Root Canal Prevention

Good oral hygiene is the only way to prevent requiring a root canal treatment. This includes attending regular dental checkups, flossing at least once a day and brushing at least two to three times per day. If you play contact sports, wear a mouth guard to reduce the risk of trauma resulting from an injury related to your sport.

When Should You Consider a Root Canal?

A dentist or orthodontist can recommend a root canal to relieve your oral pain. What are some benefits or root canal therapy?

  • Saves teeth
  • Prevents the spread of infection
  • Restores the function, strength, and esthetics of your tooth
  • Relieves pain caused by infected dental pulp


The History of Root Canals

Girl holding root canal plastic sample

Archaeologists found a skull in the Negev Desert of Israel dating back to the second or third century B.C. Inside the tooth was a bronze wire, leading historians to suspect the wire was a root canal treatment used to treat an infected tooth. Ancient Romans, responsible for inventing crowns and dentures, also used root canals.

Beginning in the first century A.D., root canal infection pain was relieved by draining the root canal of its infected pulp. This treatment method carried on through the 1500s. In the 18th century, X-rays and anesthesia were introduced, reshaping the landscape of endodontic treatment forever. Anesthesia numbed the pain of the treatment and X-rays made the treatment much more effective. Today, no more painful than a dental filling, over 41,000 people receive root canal therapy each day. That is more than 15 million treatments per year!


How Much Does a Root Canal Cost?

dentist, client and assistant

A root canal cost varies based on many factors. An endodontist may charge up to 50% higher than a general dentist. A more severely infected tooth may cost more to treat. Excluding a dental restoration after the procedure, expect to pay $500 to $1,000 for a dentist to treat an incisor. The treatment cost of a molar by a dentist is typically $800 to $1,500.

According to FAIR Health, a nonprofit organization which exists to collect healthcare cost data says the national average root canal cost is the following:

  • $762 - front tooth
  • $879 - bicuspid
  • $1,111 - molar

From the same source, if you live in a coastal area, aim to not pay rates within the top 20% of the procedure. Aim to spend less than the 80th percentile rates:

  • $929 - front tooth
  • $1,054 - bicuspid
  • $1,300 - molar

Fair Health allows you to search their website by zip code to get geographically relevant information. Remember, a dental filling after the procedure may only cost $500 or less while a crown may cost you up to $1,300 using the same 80th percentile standard. You may be looking at upwards of $2,500 for a total root canal cost.


Dental Insurance

Dentist with patient

Check with your dental insurance provider to see if you are covered for reparative procedures including a root canal and the filling or crown placement which follows the procedure. Premiums for this type of plan are usually not high. Deductibles for these plans are normally less than $200. They usually cover 50% to 90% of necessary procedures. This means, even if your procedure comes out to $2,100, if your insurance company covers 85%, you will only pay $315. Let's discuss how to save money on your treatment.

How to Save Money

You may wonder how to reduce your root canal cost. If you do not have dental insurance to cover a portion of your treatment, there are still methods you can use to reduce your total bill. Ask a dental school if dental students can work on you for a much lower price than even a practicing dentist. They are supervised by a professional instructor, so you are not at risk by letting trainees work on your teeth.

Look into joining a discount membership club. You may pay up to around $200 per year, but you can save up to 50% with these plans. If your treatment costs more than $400, you are coming out ahead enrolling in this club.

Ask for a cash-pay discount or payment plan. No billing staff wants to make collections calls. If you are honest with them before the treatment, they may work with you. You may get a 10% discount for paying by check or cash upfront. They may allow you to enroll in a payment plan with the office. They may refer you to a financing specialist, although this option will cost you more in the long run.

If you can afford to pay for your root canal upfront, put it on a rewards credit card. You can get cash back or discounts on airline tickets depending on the type of card you have. Check daily deals websites such as LivingSocial or Groupon for discounts local to your area.

If you price shop for a less expensive dentist and you have insurance, make sure he is an in-network provider. Be aware while you may save money on the treatment, your consultation may be more expensive than if you went with your regular dentist. Do a thorough cost analysis before deciding on a provider.

Root Canal

CONCLUSION

Root canal treatments, formally known as endodontic treatments, have been performed for thousands of years around the globe. Today, we have X-rays and anesthesia to make the treatment effective and pain-free. You may need root canal therapy if there is a threat of the infection spreading to your gums or other teeth. You may want an endodontic treatment to save yourself from losing your tooth. Root canal therapy relieves the pain associated with infected dental pulp. Over 15 million root canals are performed each year, and they can cost you as little as $300.

If you live in a high cost-of-living area such as the Eastern seaboard of the United States, expect the average root canal cost to be 60 to 100% more than in the rural Midwest. To save money on your treatment, be wary of going to another dental provider. He may save you money on the treatment but charge you much more in an initial assessment and X-ray. If you have dental insurance, make sure he is an in-network provider and know what is covered by your plan. Deductibles are usually less than $200, and plans can cover between 50% and 90% of the treatment and sometimes aftercare.

If you do not have dental insurance and cannot afford your treatment, talk to the billing office and see if you can get a discount for paying cash or cash-equivalent upfront or work out a payment plan. They may even have a financing company they can refer to you. If you can afford your treatment upfront, put it on a rewards credit card. Depending on the card, you can get cash back or discounts on airline tickets. You can also check websites such as Groupon or

LivingSocial for local discounts on root canals and accompanying treatments. Additionally, you may go to a dental school and have training dental students perform your treatment for a steep discount under the watchful eye of a professional dentist. Remember, if there is no local dental school, a dentist will charge less than an endodontist. The bottom line is if your dentist recommends a root canal, you need to listen. Otherwise, you may end up with a highly invasive tooth extraction procedure.

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