I Can’t Afford a Root Canal. How Long Can I Wait?

Two months ago, I had a flare-up in a molar tooth, so I made a same-day appointment with a dentist that my co-worker recommended. The dentist said I need a root canal, but I cannot afford it. How long can I put it off before the tooth surprises me again?

Thank you for your inquiry. Although Dr. Lacy would need to examine your tooth and x-rays, we can explain some basics.

Delaying a Root Canal If You Cannot Afford It

If you cannot afford root canal treatment and decide to delay it, consider a few signs and symptoms that might help you identify the status of your tooth. But the descriptions below are not a substitute for dental care.

Strawberry blonde woman with glasses with her hand over her mouth - perhaps needing root canal from an affordable dentist
Look for an affordable dentist for a root canal and payment plans
  • Painful tooth – A painful tooth is a symptom of an active infection that is spreading. Without root canal treatment, the infection can spread into your jawbone, other teeth, and your bloodstream.
  • Drainage or a gum pimple – Drainage in your mouth or a gum pimple near your tooth root is a sign of tooth abscess. Although it is not an emergency, you need treatment as soon as possible. Again, the infection can spread into your jawbone and chin and cause more problems.
  • Painless tooth – If your tooth does not hurt at all, the pulp (tissue and nerves inside) died. But the infection can still eat away at your tooth roots and make it impossible for a dentist to save your tooth. If active tooth decay caused your condition, it would grow until it destroys your tooth.

 Options When You Cannot Afford Root Canal Treatment

If you cannot afford root canal treatment but you want to save your tooth, here are some options:

  • Ask about payment plans – Many dentists offer payment plans for treatment. For example, you can pay for treatment over several months.
  • Ask about financing – CareCredit® is a health care credit card that offers low- or no-interest financing for qualifying applicants.
  • –– If you do not have dental insurance, some dental offices offer a dental savings plan to help you save money on care.

What About Tooth Extraction?

If you cannot afford root canal treatment, tooth extraction should be the last resort. When you extract a tooth:

  • Other teeth will begin to drift and disrupt your bite (the way your upper and lower teeth fit together)
  • As your teeth move, they can create orthodontic issues
  • Tooth replacement options are more expensive than root canal treatment

Look for an Affordable Dentist

Look for experienced dentists in your area who offer payment plans, financing, or a dental savings plan. You will be able to get root canal treatment and afford it by paying for care over time.

Miranda Lacy, DDS, a female dentist in Plano, TX, sponsors this post.

New cavities after pregnancy and my fillings hurt

I am writing about an increase in cavities and pain after new fillings. My third child was born in December 2020. And within a few months, I began feeling severe pain whenever I ate anything sweet. When I went to the dentist, she found two cavities. My dentist placed composite fillings. In March, after my dental appointment, my dentist found four more cavities. Two fillings are fine, but I still have pain when chewing with the other two.  My teeth ache sometimes. My dentist checked by bite, which she says is fine. She offered to replace the fillings. And she mentioned that the teeth might be cracked. Why would formerly healthy teeth be cracked? I had no issues before delivering my baby in December, and now I have multiple cavities that seem to be increasing. I brush my teeth at least twice daily and at least once daily. Why is this happening? Do I need to find a dentist who specializes in fillings? But aren’t fillings basic treatment? My anxiety is increasing with so many dental appointments. Thanks in advance for your suggestions. Kashvi from GA


Although filling teeth is not a specialty, your dentist’s technique with composite fillings might be faulty. Dr. Lacy would need to examine your teeth and fillings, but we can offer some insight.

Pregnancy and Cavities

Pregnant women can experience tooth decay and cavities for several reasons:

  • Hormonal changes – As your hormones fluctuate, it can increase the risk of gum disease. And gum infection can promote tooth decay and lead to more cavities.
  • Increased eating – Some women eat more during pregnancy. Frequent eating or snacking increases bacteria on teeth and promotes decay. Rinse your mouth well after eating and brush your teeth more frequently—but not excessively.
  • Morning sickness – Stomach acid from vomiting can erode tooth enamel. Rinse your mouth well and drink plenty of water.

Pain When Chewing on a New Filling

If you have pain when chewing—not biting—on a new filling, it is usually a problem with how the dentist bonded the filling. Your pain will probably resolve if a dentist removes the fillings and bonds them properly. But take care of it promptly. Pain when biting on a new filling would have a different cause.

Pain with Multiple Tooth Fillings

Photo of female patient sitting and relaxing in a dental chair, for information on sedation dentistry from Plano female dentist, Dr. Miranda Lacy.
Ask your dentist about sedation options

When multiple tooth fillings are painful, your dentist does not understand how to place or bond the filling completely. Amalgam fillings are easier to place than white fillings and require less skill. But composite fillings require advanced training to place and bond so they will last without causing discomfort.

Many dental schools still teach students to place amalgam fillings on back teeth. After dental school, a dentist must pursue continuing education to understand composite bonding and do it well. But some dentists try to use the techniques they learned for amalgam fillings when placing composite fillings. And it just does not work.

Schedule a Second Opinion

Look for a cosmetic dentist with advanced cosmetic dentistry training. Check a few dentists’ websites for their credentials. After a consultation and examination, a cosmetic dentist will explain your options for replacing or re-bonding your fillings and relieving your pain. If your anxiety level remains high, speak with the dentist about your options for sedation.

Miranda Lacy, DDS, a Plano, TX female dentist, sponsors this post.