Root Canal vs Filling: What Procedure Do I Need?

Cover photo for Filling vs Root Canal blog post.

Our teeth are fantastic tools for eating and drinking, but the older we get the more they are exposed to potential trauma. Over time cavities and decay increase. If left untreated, they can impair the root canal systems and soft tissue inside our teeth, leading to infections, inflammation, and damaged tissue. In minor cases, cavities can be treated with fillings, but a root canal might be necessary in more severe cases. Unfortunately, due to their similarities and mutual hard-to-reach locations, it can be difficult to assess whether a filling or root canal is required initially. 

Root Canal Treatment

Root canal treatment is a way of saving your natural tooth rather than replacing it with fixed dentures. The procedure involves cleaning and removing dead or decaying pulp from the tooth and then re-sealing it with a crown. This method is advantageous as your natural teeth are more efficient for chewing, help protect the adjacent teeth from overuse, and are generally more aesthetically pleasing. However, root canal treatments can also weaken the tooth, require multiple visits, and may not eradicate the infection if performed poorly. 


A tooth filling involves the surgical insertion of a material into a damaged tooth to restore its original shape and prevent further decay. Unlike root canal treatment, fillings can be used for relatively minor decay. Fillings are advantageous because they are relatively cheap, protect your teeth from further damage, and may even prevent you from ever needing a root canal. The downsides are that certain material deteriorates more rapidly, resulting in further cavities, infections, and poor aesthetics.

How to Know If You Need a Filling or Root Canal

Despite several similarities, it is possible to determine which procedure is required for your cavity or decay based on the symptoms you are experiencing.

Symptoms for Root Canals

Symptoms of root canal damage may include moderate to severe tooth pain in the affected area, swollen gums, and extreme sensitivity to different temperatures. You may also notice changes to their cosmetic appearance, such as a dark spot or cavity, or have sustained tooth damage, including a loose tooth, a fractured tooth, or damage to prior artificial crowns or dentures.

Symptoms for Fillings

Symptoms that you may require a dental filling include toothaches or throbbing and stabbing pains in your teeth, particularly when chewing or biting. The affected tooth or teeth may also be more sensitive to hot or cold temperatures and/or have minor dental decay such as dark spots or small cavities. It is also common for floss to snap during flossing due to getting caught on jagged, cracked, or worn-away areas of your tooth.

Shared Symptoms

Fillings and root canals share symptoms such as pain, toothaches, swelling, sensitivity to extreme temperatures, and visible damage to teeth. The difference between the two is that if a root canal system is damaged and infected, the severity of symptoms will be much higher.

Root Canal vs Filling differences infographic

What’s the Cost Difference?

Root canals are generally more expensive because they do not deal with minor decay as fillings do. Every case is different, and the cost will depend upon the severity of the damage, as well as how many teeth are damaged. 

Cost of root canals

A root canal procedure generally costs between $1,500 to $1,900 per tooth. However prices vary depending on the number of teeth, how much infected or dead pulp has to be removed, and how extensive the reshaping of the inner root canals needs to be.

Cost of fillings 

Fillings range in cost according to material, the severity of the decay, the number of fillings required, and other procedures necessary prior to the filling. Due to the rapid advance in dental technology, there are now many different types of dental fillings made from different materials. These include:

  • Amalgam Fillings (Cost: $50-$150 per filling): Amalgam fillings are silver in colour, made of mercury, mixed with a combination of copper, tin, zinc, or silver, and can last from 10-15 years with proper care. 
  • Composite Fillings (Cost: $250-$400 per filling): These are customised to match the natural appearance of your teeth. They do not last as long as amalgams, but require less tooth structure to be altered.
  • Gold Fillings (Cost: $900-$4500 per filling): More expensive but can last up to 20 years with good oral hygiene and proper maintenance.
  • Porcelain Fillings (Cost: $900-$4500 per filling): Porcelain is popular, long-lasting, and can be matched to the colour of your teeth, however it is more expensive. 
  • Glass Ionomer Fillings (Cost: $150-$300 per filling): These are not as strong as composite resin but are good for babies and areas below the gum line. 
  • Temporary Filling (Cost: $50-$150 per filling): Temporary fillings are easier to remove and use softer material.

Always Consult a Dentist 

It is always best to consult your dentist for a dental exam to determine whether you need a filling or root canal therapy. Whatever your dental needs, Putney Dental Care is proud to offer the best dental filling services in Ryde, Meadowbank and Gladesville regions! We are family-friendly dentistry that provides a wide array of services outside of dental fillings. 

If you suspect that you may need a filling or root canal treatment, book an appointment with our general dentistry team by calling (02) 9808 2588 or online via our contact page!


Can you Get a Filling Before a Root Canal?

You can get a filling before a root canal if there is no damage to the root canal system. However, if the nerve and blood vessels of your root canal system are inflamed or infected, it is essential that they are cleaned and treated before a filling can be placed over the cavity. Placing a filling over an infected tooth would simply be masking the problem and allowing it to deteriorate over time.

Do Fillings Hurt More Than Root Canals?

Both procedures should be pain-free as the dentist numbs the area with a local anaesthetic. In the case of root canals, once the anaesthetic wears off, it is common for you to experience discomfort around the area for a few days. Make sure to eat soft foods, avoid exercise for a few days, get a lot of rest, and take over-the-counter medications such as aspirin and ibuprofen to manage pain.

Does a Root Canal Feel like a Filling?

Both share similar feelings of pain, swelling, and sensitivity before treatment and potential moderate discomfort post-treatment once local anaesthetic wears off. All symptoms should subside in a few days, and you should consult your dentist if you are still experiencing pain after one week.

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