What are the differences between a root canal and a filling?

When treating a damaged tooth, the dentist may suggest the need for different procedures. In this article we detail what are the differences between a root canal and a filling.

Last update: 04 September, 2021

When it comes to solving a tooth decay problem, many patients wonder what type of treatment is ideal. Know the differences between a root canal and a filling allows you to understand why the dentist suggests each of these alternatives.

Tooth decay is a progressive disease that destroys the hard tissues of the teeth. Treatment will depend on the extent and depth of the injury, the compromised tissues and the patient's symptoms.

Root canals and treatments they are the most used alternatives to solve carious lesions. The sooner a solution is sought, the simpler and more comfortable the therapy will be. In addition, troublesome complications for the patient are avoided.

There are similarities and differences between a root canal and a filling and in this article we will tell you about them. Keep reading and find out in which cases each of these treatments is most appropriate.

Damage to teeth

As we have anticipated, although there are differences between a root canal and a filling, both treatments can be used to treat cavities. This disease is one of the most frequent in the world and it affects both children and adults.

Tooth decay is the destruction of the hard tissues of the teeth. Bacteria in the mouth ferment carbohydrates in the diet and produce acid that demineralizes teeth.

If a solution is not sought, the damage progresses and destroys more and more tissues. Thus, the dental pulp can be affected, causing painful symptoms.

However, although caries is the most common cause of tooth damage, there are other sources of dental injuries. Heavy trauma or blows, for example, can lead to pulp fractures and injuries.

Depending on the symptoms that the patient presents and the amount and type of damaged tissues, the treatment to choose will depend. Herein lies one of the big differences between a root canal and a filling.

The dentist will take into account the degree of destruction of the dental element, the presence of white, brown, black spots or holes. In addition, it will consider if there is sensitivity to cold, heat or sweet foods, spontaneous pain or abscesses.

With this information, you will choose the most appropriate therapy to provide an adequate solution to the patient. Next, we detail the differences between a root canal and a filling so that you know in detail each of these treatments.


Endodontics or root canal treatment is the dental procedure performed to remove damaged pulp tissue and clean the inside of the tooth. That space is then filled and sealed with biocompatible materials.

Endodontics allows to preserve a dental element with inflamed, dead or infected pulp and to avoid its extraction. The most common cause of internal tooth damage is cavities. Although it can also be caused by a blow, by pathologies of the tissues that surround the dental element or even by poorly made fillings.

As the soft part of the tooth, where the nerve endings and blood vessels are found, is affected, the patient begins to present symptoms that indicate damage. These are some discomforts that the person may feel that indicate the need for a root canal:

  • Sensitivity to cold and heat.
  • Pain in the tooth or in neighboring areas: it can be intermittent, constant, pulsating, when chewing and with different intensity depending on the case.
  • Chewing discomfort.
  • Color change of the dental crown.
  • Appearance of a phlegmon or fistula.
  • Swelling in the area

When any of these symptoms appear, it is advisable to go to the dentist immediately. Thus, an early solution is sought that prevents the discomfort and complications from appearing.

This intervention performed on definitive teeth and the materials to be used vary in cases of young teeth that have not yet completed root formation. When pulp damage occurs in milk teeth, root canals are not performed as in adults, but rather other types of appropriate approaches to the temporary teeth.

Endodontics is popularly known as root canal.

How is a root canal done?

Endodontics are performed in one or two sessions, depending on the particularities of the clinical case. In general, these are the steps to perform this dental treatment:

  1. Anesthesia: Local anesthesia is applied to the area to prevent the patient from feeling pain during the intervention.
  2. Isolation of the dental element: A special rubber is used to isolate the tooth to be worked on.
  3. Access to the pulp chamber: using rotary instruments the diseased tissue is removed. In addition, a deep hole is made to reach the pulp.
  4. Cleaning and shaping the canal: all pulp tissue is removed and the remaining space is cleaned. With rotary and manual instruments, the internal walls of the tooth are scraped, removing organic material and giving the canals a conical shape. In addition, disinfectant liquids are placed that remove the remains of soft tissue.
  5. Duct filling: When the entire area occupied by the pulp is clean, it is dried and then filled with a biocompatible material. Hot gutta-percha is usually the most widely used option. It is introduced to the end of the root canals and is completed to occupy the entire area of ​​the pulp chamber.
  6. Control X-ray: During the process, X-rays are taken to verify the length of the roots and the length to be worked. At the end of the sealing of the canals, a control plate is taken to ensure that the material reaches the tip of the root, but does not exceed it.
  7. Tooth reconstruction: At the end of the endodontics, it is necessary to return the lost anatomy to the tooth so that it can fulfill its function in the mouth. The cavity left when cleaning the dental element is filled with some temporary or definitive material, depending on the clinical case.

Do root canals hurt?

As we already mentioned, performing a root canal treatment it is performed most of the time under local anesthesia. There are specific cases in which it is not necessary because the pulp has died and the tooth no longer feels anything.

In any case, when working on a sensitive area of ​​the teeth, the dentist will always be attentive to the patient's sensations. In this way, it is possible to reinforce the anesthesia to avoid any discomfort during the procedure.

After the root canal treatment is completed, It is common for pain or tenderness to appear in the intervened area. The inflammation produced in the area and the healing process that is generated at the tip of the root cause discomfort that will disappear with the passage of days.

To avoid postoperative symptoms, the dentist will indicate the use of anti-inflammatories for a few days. If the pulp tissue was infected, antibiotics will also be prescribed.

Controls after treatment are essential to monitor the treated tooth.

Dental fillings

Dental fillings are the treatment of choice when restoring decayed teeth, but they do not have pulp damage. It is a simple and comfortable therapy that allows to solve the loss of dental tissue and slow the progression of the disease.

Fillings consist of removing the affected tissue and cleaning the tooth remnant. The space left is then filled with a biocompatible material that restores the lost anatomy and function to the tooth.

Also fillings are used to restore fractured teeth or improve appearance of elements with dental anomalies, such as hypoplasias.

How dental fillings are made

Once the dentist has made the diagnosis and planned the treatment, will proceed to place local anesthesia. By numbing the area, discomfort during the procedure is avoided.

Then it begins with the removal of the affected tissue. With rotary instruments, all the decayed tissue is removed until a clean and healthy cavity is left.

Finally, this space is cleaned and filled with a biocompatible material. The choice of the same depends on the clinical case and the needs and possibilities of the patient.

In general, composite resins are the most widely used material. However, silver amalgams, metal alloys or glass ionomers can be used.

Depending on the filling chosen, the appropriate adhesive system will be made for generate an optimal bond between the tooth and the filling. In cases of very deep cavities, it is necessary to protect the area near the pulp with special materials.

The dentist places the material into the cavity and shapes it to restore the original anatomy of the tooth. In the case of composite resins or composites it is necessary to harden them using a special light.

Upon completion of the filling, the dentist tests the occlusion and the relationship of the arrangement to the rest of the mouth. If necessary, excess material is worn away so that it does not interfere with the bite. What's more, a final polishing is done to leave the surface of the filling smooth and shiny.

Fillings can last for several years in the mouth. Anyway, checking them periodically allows detecting breaks or leaks that could cause complications.

Differences between a root canal and a filling

Now you know what each of these treatments consists of. Here are the main differences between a root canal and a filling:

  • Severity of injuries being treated: Fillings are used to treat minor carious injuries or hard tissue fractures. Root canals, on the other hand, are the solution to preserve teeth with large and deep lesions.
  • Fabrics on which it is intervened: root canals allow the removal of the dental pulp and treat the inner portion of the teeth, at the level of the crown and the root of the element. On the other hand, fillings are responsible for reversing the affections on the hard tissues of the crowns of the teeth, without reaching the nerve of the tooth.
  • Purpose of the treatment: root canals remove the pulp, clean, disinfect and fill the canals of the teeth. Fillings remove damaged hard tissue and rebuild the shape of teeth.
  • Duration and complexity of the procedure: fillings are much quicker and easier to do than root canals.
  • Vitality of teeth: Once the root canal treatment is completed, the teeth lose vitality. In contrast, in the case of fillings, the teeth remain vital.

Although the differences between a root canal and a filling are very evident, both treatments coincide in the recovery of the health of a damaged tooth element. Both are conservative procedures that allow the damaged tooth to remain in the mouth without the need to remove it.

Although in this article we clarify in which situations each one is used, it is the dentist who will determine the most suitable for each particular case. The professional will consider the symptoms present, the condition of the tooth and the severity of the injury.

The choice of one treatment or another will depend on several conditions. The professional is the one who defines the best approach.

Both treatments can be avoided

As we have already mentioned, the most common origin of dental lesions that require these treatments is caries. And this pathology, With proper care, it can be prevented.

Preventing the accumulation of bacterial plaque in the oral cavity with correct oral hygiene is essential to avoid cavities. Toothbrushing three times a day, flossing and supplementing with pastes and rinses with fluoride keep your mouth clean.

Pay attention to food eating a healthy, varied and low-sugar diet it is also very important. You should avoid, or at least reduce, the consumption of soft drinks, sweets and pastries.

Visiting the dentist regularly is another way to take care of the health of the oral cavity. Professional cleanings and semi-annual check-ups keep your mouth healthy and detect any problems early.

Both a root canal and a filling are treatments that allow the oral cavity to be restored to health. However, if the teeth are prevented from getting sick it is possible to have a healthy smile without the need to resort to these therapies.