Thursday, August 7, 2014

The Root Canal

For those of you who have ever had to experience a root canal, this post is for you.  After being told that mine was challenging, my mind raced in the chair wondering if the experience was the same for everyone.  Here is my observation as a patient having recently had this unpleasant, yet extremely necessary procedure.  Refusing to have it done could have resulted in a life threatening situation.

The dread is the first step.  You've been informed that the best case scenario for your fractured tooth is a root canal and a crown.  The worst case is an extraction and an implant.  Neither of these sounds like a "best", so the anxiety over everything you've ever heard about a root canal stimulates your vivid imagination.  Please understand that this perspective is of a woman who has dental horror stories in her past.

The dreaded day arrives and you get to experience the joy of 3 shots of novocaine in the back of your jaw.  Luckily your dentist is quite skilled and you hardly feel a thing.  After your face is good and numb and Bill Cosby's stand up routine is ringing through your head "myba libip ibis obon thaba floba", they get to work.


A rubber sheet is placed over your mouth attached only to the injured tooth.  The purpose is to keep things sanitary and you are happy it's there.  Your jaw stays wide open for the remainder of the procedure, which could be the hardest part.  It just gets tired and sore from an hour or more of work happening inside one, little tooth.

I am unaware of what happens inside anyone else's head during this stressful situation.  I've told you before that my mouth can become very "sailor-like" when in the right state of mind.  Since having a rubber sheet over your face prevents any talking at all, there is a consistent stream of profanity running through my head the entire time.  My brain pictures Steven Martin's sadistic dentist character from "Little Shop Of Horrors", though my dentist seems as pleasant as can be.


The dentist uses technical terms never heard by layman's ears.  Words like mesial an buccal are interrupting your best effort to find your happy place.  The sweet as candy dental assistant asks if you're okay for the 5th time and your only response can be a slight moan or a thumbs up.  Meanwhile, as the dentist presses down hard on your jaw, the inner sailor is screaming, "F^*& you, mother F^*&@)!!"

There are tiny files going in and out of the canals inside your tooth.  If you're lucky (cough, cough) like me your canal will split in two so that the dentist has to find a special way to get into one and remove the nerve with special tools.  Micro-suction and unpleasant pressure is constant the entire time.  It isn't pain though, other than in your ass.  Sorry the sailor stepped in for a minute.

The worst interruption of all is the squealing drill.  From the outside surely it sounds like a small squeal.  Inside your face it sounds like the biggest piece of equipment used in off shore drilling.  Sweat is forming a giant puddle beneath you and your breathing is consciously forced into calm and even repetitions trying desperately to find that happy place again.  Memories of my childhood dentist and his nitrous oxide induced humming voice fill my head and I wish for that mask to return.

Then he says you're almost done.  These are the blessed words you've been awaiting since you arrived.  The calm you've tried so hard to induce has finally arrived too.  You can't smile because your lip continues to hang and drool, but your inner sailor is smiling and saying, "thank God that s&!$ is over."

The nice lady behind the desk then brings the added joy of collecting the money for the remainder of the bill that your insurance won't cover.  You know she doesn't want to do it while your face droops to the counter in front of her, but it is her job and she does it with a smile.  It's over and you only have to wait for the feeling to return to your face.

The pain of a root canal isn't bad if your dentist knows what he's doing.  Novocaine is uncomfortable in the beginning.  It is your best friend when the work is being done in direct proximity to a nerve.  Nobody wants to sign up for a root canal.  Dental work just isn't a good time.  If only it were simple to prevent with flossing and brushing.  My sailor says, "s&!$ happens," so find a good dentist.  His ad campaign won't likely be, "For a good time call....", but he could make it endurable.
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