Your Guide to Common Dental Procedures: Part 3- Maintenance, Cleaning, Tooth Repair, and Extraction

Doctor Marín talking to a patient

In part one of our Guide to Common Dental Procedure Series, we discussed implants, and in part two, we talked about crowns. In this section, we’re going to discuss preventative procedures and maintenance that may prevent the necessity for both implants and crowns. 

While some dental issues are caused by medical conditions, genetics, or accidents, many dental issues can be prevented if caught early on. Let’s discuss the procedures that can help maintain your oral and dental health, so you can keep your natural smile healthy and pain-free.

Here are some steps that you can take to correct minor dental problems before they lead to larger issues that can lead to the need for a full mouth restoration or an all-on-X procedure.

Procedure 1- Adult Prophy and Scaling

When It’s Used

This is the technical term that describes professional tooth cleaning. For normal healthy teeth, this should be done every 6 months. If you suffer from gum disease or weak enamel (which is prone to cavities), 3-4 months may be recommended.

What is Involved

Prophy is short for dental prophylaxis, a thorough cleaning that is meant to prevent cavities and maintain good oral health. Scaling is the removal of calculus (plaque) buildup along and below the gum line and between teeth where regular brushing can’t always reach. 

 Scaling and prophy are generally accomplished with a selection of hand instruments, dental floss, an ultrasonic cleaner, and lots of skill and patience, and are often then followed up with a polish or fluoride rinse.

How Long It Takes

While the process itself is detailed and requires lots of skill, our dental assistants are masters at their craft and it generally takes 20-30 minutes to complete. However, it is usually part of a regular check-up and as such, we will typically schedule a 60-minute appointment.

Cost Comparison

In the US, the cost of prophy and scaling can vary dramatically, depending on how long it takes, and what other services/products the particular dental office includes as part of the procedure (ie. polish, fluoride, whitening, etc). In general, you can expect to pay between $400 and $4000 in the US for the treatment.

At Meza Dental, (San Jose or Cancun) this procedure includes the cleaning and the scaling and costs an average of $150.

Procedure 2- Composite (aka Fillings)

When It’s Used

When you experience toothaches or sharp tooth pain, either during eating or when enjoying a hot/cold drink, you probably have a cavity. Fixing this issue will require a composite.

Composite is the professional term for filling because it’s made of a composite resin.

What is Involved

The first step in this procedure is to determine the extent/size of the damaged area (cavity) using X-rays and visual assessments. Once the team has created a plan for the best treatment, you are given a local anesthetic to numb the area. 

Then the damaged material of your tooth is removed using a dental drill. The hole is cleaned and dried and then an adhesive is applied before the composite material is pushed into the cavity a little at a time to ensure that it fills the area without air bubbles and adheres to the enamel properly. Then it is smoothed and shaped to blend in with the rest of your tooth.

How Long It Takes

As you can see, the process is pretty straightforward. That means that most small cavities can be fixed in less than 30 minutes. The more you have the longer it takes.

Cost Comparison

In the US, the average cost of one composite is $150. In Costa Rica or Mexico, that price can range from $85- $200 depending on the surfaces treated in each tooth.

Procedure 3- Root Canal

When It’s Used

A root canal is required when the pulp in the root of your tooth has become infected. Any infection in your body is a serious business because the infection can enter the bloodstream and spread. 

Now, in some cases, the infection can be treated using an antibiotic, and the cavity that allowed the tooth to become infected can be repaired. But, if the tooth has been infected for a long time, there may be bacteria in the root itself. If that’s the case, the pulp must be removed to save the tooth.

What is Involved

A root canal can’t be performed while the infection is still active, so you will normally have to undergo a course of antibiotics first. Once that is done, the extent of the damage is assessed using X-rays.

For the procedure itself, the tooth in question is numbed using a local anesthetic, and then the infected pulp is carefully removed using drills and tiny brushes. The inside of the tooth is then disinfected and cleaned to ensure that the tooth remains healthy. Then the tooth is filled and sealed in the same way as a regular composite.

How Long It Takes

The amount of time required for the procedure depends on the size of the tooth and the extent of the damage. To be successful, we ensure that all the damaged pulp is removed, and that can take anywhere from 90 minutes to 3 hours.

Cost Comparison

The cost of a root canal can vary greatly depending on the size and location of the tooth, but in general, you are looking at a cost of between $650 to $1,500 per tooth in the US.

In Costa Rica or Mexico, you can expect to pay from $400- $500 per tooth.

Procedure 4- Dental Post 

When It’s Used

When you have a tooth that has extensive damage, you may require a dental post.  In cases where the damage is minimal, composite alone can be used to repair a tooth, but if the damage is extensive, we may decide to insert a post. Here is why.

Picture a molar. If the center of the molar has a cavity or requires a root canal, and removing the damaged tissues leaves a big hole in the molar, then the sides of the tooth have much less support than they used to, even with composite. 

That can make your teeth prone to breakage, which is better to avoid. By putting a post into the canal of the root and then using composite to fill around the post, we are adding structural integrity to the tooth and preventing future breakage. 

What is Involved

The procedure is very similar to a regular composite filling or root canal with the exception that we will drill out a space to put the post (usually within the canal that houses the tooth’s root), and cement the post in place before the composite material is added to complete the repair.

How Long It Takes

By itself, the installation of a post can take as little as 15 minutes, but the procedure is generally performed as part of a crown buildup (to strengthen a tooth before a crown is placed over it) or after a root canal, (for the same reason).

Cost Comparison

The cost of this procedure in the US will run between $250 to $500. At Meza Dental (San Jose or Cancun), the cost drops to $200 for each.

Procedure 5- Extraction

When It’s Used

When a tooth is damaged beyond repair (which can happen for a wide number of reasons), it needs to be removed. This is known as an extraction.

What is Involved

Before any extraction, anesthesia will be used to numb your mouth. Then, for a simple extraction, a tool known as an elevator loosens the tooth from your gums. Once it is loose, forceps are attached to the tooth to pull it out.

If the tooth is impacted (because it didn’t erupt properly, or grew at an angle) or if there simply isn’t enough tooth to grab ahold of, the extraction will be done surgically. In this case, an incision will be made into your gum to provide better access to the tooth. In these cases, some bone may need to be removed to extract the tooth, or the tooth may need to be removed in pieces.

After the extraction, a blood clot will naturally form in the cavity, the tooth will stop bleeding and healing will begin, which is usually required before the follow-up procedures that usually accompany extractions. 

If this doesn’t happen naturally, a dressing may be placed so that the bone isn’t exposed while the healing process begins. In the case of surgical extraction, a suture (stitch) may also be placed to help close the incision.

How Long It Takes

The process itself takes between 20-40 minutes. So a simple extraction can be done during a 30-minute appointment, with multiple extractions taking longer.

And in general, if you were given I.V. sedation, you will be asked to stay until the effects wear off and we are sure that you are suffering no ill effects, so you can expect to be in the office for an hour.

Cost Comparison

A regular extraction in the US costs $75-$200 for each tooth, depending on the type of anesthesia used. However, if the tooth is impacted (which may require more extensive dental surgery and general anesthesia), it can be $800- $4,000 per tooth.

At Meza Dental, the price range for a simple extraction is $95, and for a surgical extraction(like a wisdom tooth) is $350.

The Little Things Add Up

Now that you know all about the basic procedures that help maintain your dental health, as well as what will happen if they need a little help, you can see why dentists recommend cleaning, flossing, and maintaining your teeth!  As advanced as modern dentistry has become, nothing beats the teeth you were born with for comfort and functionality, and a little bit of effort every day can save a lot of headaches down the road. 

Still, life happens, and sometimes we need a little help to get our teeth back to their happy, healthy selves. If that’s the case you can call us toll-free from Canada and the US at 1-(877)-337-6392. Our friendly English-speaking staff is ready and waiting to answer all of your questions and set your appointment with Meza Dental.

You can also email us at or head to our website for your free estimate

Stay tuned for our next Guide to Common Dental Procedures, where we will discuss correcting and repairing the underlying structures.

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