Many patients and dentists face a decision-making process when it comes to keeping a natural tooth with root canal therapy vs. removal of a tooth and replacing it with a dental implant. The introduction of dental implants has proven to be a pivotal technology in dentistry. In a profession that strives to help patients keep their dentition, the point when it becomes necessary to opt for dental implants is a judgment call.
So, is one treatment better than another? There have been many scientific papers written on this subject. In one more recent study published in the Journal of Dental Research the authors noted, “Both options should be seen as complementing each other, not as competing, and should serve the overall goal in dentistry, the long-term health and benefit of the patient, being least invasive and incorporating function, comfort, and esthetics. A tendency exists toward a simplified approach of ‘extraction and implant,’ but this is not always simple or ethical.”
In comparing many of the research studies, there seems to be a difference in what the implant studies define as their “survival” rate vs. “success” rate. Many dentists will tell patients that the survival rate for dental implants is in the 95% range but when looking at the research, the success rates of these same implants falls into the low to mid 70% range. Meanwhile, there are strict guidelines for root canal (endodontic) success.
In another study the authors compared the prognosis for implants and root canal treated teeth, and noted that “natural teeth exceed the life expectancy of implants at 10-year observation points, including root canal treated or periodontally compromised teeth.” Note: Periodontally compromised teeth are those with at least moderate bone loss.
In yet another study that compared root canal treated teeth with single-unit implants, researchers observed a positive outcome in 74% of the implants and 84% of the root canal treated teeth after seven to nine years. They also found significantly higher rates of complications and necessary interventions in the implant group, and patients needed more time to adjust to implant restorations.
Treatment outcomes differ significantly, depending on the experience of the clinician, and it is more significant in implants than in endodontic treatment. In one study, implant specialists achieved a 96% survival rate, while inexperienced practitioners only had a survival rate of 73%. Meanwhile, researchers observed less of a difference when it came to clinician type and endodontic treatment in a multicenter study with 350 teeth meeting the inclusion criteria: General practitioners had a 90% survival rate, while root canal specialists had a 98% rate.
Now that you are thoroughly confused, how do you make a decision when posed with the question to keep a natural tooth with root canal therapy vs. a dental implant? There are many factors to consider, and each situation is unique. It is important to discuss the pros and cons with your dentist.
While dental implant treatment is absolutely the treatment of choice for many situations, keep in mind that many of the studies comparing the two treatment options suggest that “too many teeth are extracted in favor of dental implants”.
Dr. St. Clair maintains a private dental practice in Rowley and Newburyport dedicated to health-centered family dentistry. He has a special interest in treating sleep apnea and TMJ problems. If there are certain topics you would like to see written about or questions you have please email them to him at firstname.lastname@example.org