how do i know if i need a root canal or a filling

Only a dentist or dental expert can determine whether a root canal or a filling will solve your dental problem.

Understand the difference between root canals and fillings, the signs that you need a root canal and the severity of pain during the procedure.

Some people are unsure when they need these procedures, so the first step is to understand what differentiates one from the other.

Tooth Structure Involved

The root canal involves the pulp or the living tissue of the tooth which is formed internally. This procedure goes to the root of the tooth, while the filling is limited to the outer surface of the pulp—which is the coronal pulp, and the enamel and dentin.

Dental Procedure

Dentists usually take X-rays to determine the extent of infection, then the shape of the root canals in the infected tooth. They numb the area with anesthesia, create a dam sheet of rubber) around your tooth to block your saliva and drill into your tooth up to its root.

Dentists remove the tooth pulp, clean it, seal it and put a temporary crown to avoid food from filling in the area and prevent the growth of bacteria that might cause gum infection. They will replace it with a custom-made permanent crown.

Dentists recommend dental filling when they see cavities. They inject local anesthetics to your gums around the affected tooth; leave it until it is numb. Afterward, they remove the cavity with a drill and put a dental filling to cover the drilled area.


Root canals replace the infected soft tissues of your tooth with a static material, and fix and keep your decayed or infected tooth. This procedure simply removes the nerve and pulp and cleans and preserves the inside of your tooth.

A filling restores your decayed or infected tooth, so it can go back to its original shape and function. It removes the cavities and fills it up with a filling material.

Signs That Your Tooth Needs a Root Canal

An extreme toothache is not the only sign that you need a root canal. In fact, there are times that there is no pain at all! Here are some important signs that you might need this treatment for your tooth:

  • Tooth sensitivity
  • Darkened Tooth
  • Red and swollen gums around the affected tooth
  • Fever
  • Signs of Infection
  • Abscess or puss-filled sac on the gums near the affected tooth. It may or may not be painful but the infection has to be taken right away before it spreads.
  • X-ray gives a clear sign of infection at the root of the tooth

How Painful is Root Canal?

This procedure could be painful. But, there are times that there is no pain whatsoever.

But, root canal hurts more when there is an infection in the roots of your tooth, such as:

The local anesthetics may not completely numb the red, hot and swollen area, so you may feel some pain during the treatment. X-rays could also provide a clear view of the extent of infection, the possible areas and the possible pain you can expect, in so far as swelling is concerned.

If you think you have a tooth infection right at the roots, talk to your dentists to know if there is a need for an endodontic procedure such as a root canal or if tooth filling will do.

Author: Peter Mayhew

Peter is a dental hygienist in the city of Chicago, IL. In his free time he likes to write blogs and product reviews on anything dental health related.