Maintaining a healthy smile goes beyond upkeeping the visible anatomy of the teeth; oral hygiene also includes healthy roots and gums. Routine dental visits are essential to good oral hygiene, but typical dental insurance plans at the bare minimum only cover routine cleanings every six months. More complex issues involving root canals or gum disease may require endodontics and periodontic dentistry and may not qualify for coverage. Understanding the difference between each is important as well as preventive actions that can be taken to avoid out-of-pocket dental costs.
Endodontics is derived from the Greek words "endo" and "odont," meaning "inside" and "tooth," respectively. Endodontics is most generally referred to as root canals and is necessary when a tooth is infected down to the roots, accelerating tooth decay and eventually resulting in tooth loss. Root canals are typically signaled by tooth sensitivity or discoloration, an indication that there is inflammation or infection of the inner pulp tissue, although having no symptoms is possible. Because of the complex nature of root canals, endodontists must complete two additional years of specialized education in addition to dental school -- also a reason why endodontic treatment is more expensive than routine dentistry and may not be covered in whole or in part by dental insurance.
In contrast to endodontics, periodontics refers to the treatment of gums, derived from the Greek words "peri" and "odont," literally meaning "around the tooth." Periodontists complete three additional years of advanced education in addition to dental school and are usually referred by dentists for treatment of gum disease. Early signs of gum disease are inflamed and bleeding gums, also known as gingivitis. Prolonged gingivitis will eventually lead to periodontal disease and ultimately tooth loss if left untreated. Advanced stages of periodontal disease may require surgery to repair the damaged gums and reshape the supporting tissue around the tooth.
Causes of Root Canals and Gum Disease
Many reasons account for why endodontic treatment may be needed; dental decay or trauma to the tooth are common causes. Dental decay can cause inflamed pulp tissue while sudden blows to the tooth can also cause damage. Gum disease, on the other hand, is caused by plaque accumulation on the gum line, which could be caused by inadequate brushing and flossing or even genetics. Advanced damage to the gums will eventually lead to bone deterioration and loss of tooth attachment. Frequent dental procedures can also contribute to both pulp damage and gum disease; it is the reason why deep scaling procedures can only be completed by dentists every so often.
Because endodontists and periodontists are both specialists, their procedures can be costly. While root canals and periodontic dentistry can repair damaged tissue and gums, they are in no way a permanent solution. Dental disease is preventable and is a reason why dental insurance companies only cover routine cleanings; root canals and periodontal treatments usually result in some out-of-pocket costs to the patient. To avoid unnecessary costs (and pain), patients must maintain good oral hygiene in between routine cleanings.
Wanwisa Baker is an associate consultant with the Dallas-based strategic management consulting firm Capital Perception. She received her Master of Business Administration from the University of North Carolina's Kenan-Flagler Business School and her bachelor's degree in economics from the University of Virginia. Prior to business school, Baker was a real-estate/corporate paralegal and entrepreneur.