Before I get to the main purpose of this post, a side thought: Whoever said that change is the only consistent thing in the world certainly knew a little something about the business world. Case in point: The team I’m on at my place of employment, which will soon undergo a reorganization and shifting of duties. While I understand management’s need to “serve our customers” in an effective manner, no longer having a chance to perform a cool task you really enjoy doing can be the pits. Oh, well. The good thing is that I do still have gainful employment, and there’s always the possibility that another cool task may be coming my way (I love having a bit of variety in my daily work routine).
Another thing about this move that’s the pits is that some of the people I enjoy working with won’t be on the same team as I. One of those people serves as inspiration for this post. This afternoon, he went to the wonderful world of endodontics and undergo a root canal procedure. Yeah, what fun, huh?
At this point, I ask for a show of hands: How many of you out there have undergone a root canal in your lifetime? Okay, a few of you. I have my hand up as well. Matter of fact, I have had it done twice in my lifetime. I underwent the first such procedure 10 years ago this summer. The reason wasn’t pleasant, and I admit I was partially to blame. Since moving to Madison 5 years earlier, I hadn’t found a good dentist, let alone wanted to see one. All that changed, however, when one of my upper molars started driving me nuts. Thinking a cavity filling was in order, I booked an appointment with a dental clinic recommended to me by a work colleague; I just told ’em, “yeah, I have a tooth that’s got a cavity and I need it filled.” It took no less than an hour on a Wednesday morning to get the cavity filled (novacane, drilling, the whole nine yards), and I was back to work by mid-morning.
By midday Thursday, however, I began noticing something wasn’t right. There was a bit of puffiness and lingering soreness, and I only thought it was a side effect of the novacane wearing off. Friday morning, however, it got really serious: I woke up very early with my left cheek and mouth area all puffy and swollen. (Yikes!) So, I went to the same dental clinic for an emergency visit and saw a different dentist than the one who performed the actual cavity filling (that Friday was their day off). The new dentist took a couple of x-rays and told me flat-out that the tooth was “dead” and I needed to undergo endodontic therapy — the fancy term for a root canal. (Double yikes!)
The dentist sent me off with a few things: First, he prescribed some antibiotics to bring the swelling down (no one wants their face to look like that of the Michelin Man). Second, he gave me the dental clinic’s emergency number in case things got worse that weekend, which, lucky for me, did not (the antibiotics did the job). Third, he gave me the number of an endodontist to book an appointment.
By that point in time, though, I didn’t know the first thing about a root canal procedure. What I know now is that it’s akin to the Vietnam War — killing what’s left of the tooth in order to save it. (Bad analogy, sorry.) What I thought then was that the endodontist would do to my gum line what was done to Panama over a century ago (it’s the “canal” part of “root canal” that made me think that). But after hemming and hawing and considering getting a second opinion (really, Allison?) and realizing that things would only get worse if nothing was done, I finally broke down and booked an appointment with the endodontist for one Thursday morning about 3 weeks later. (It was the Thursday after my 20-year high school class reunion, but that’s neither here nor there.)
In those 3 weeks between the start of the problem and that endodontic appointment, I read up and pulled up any information I could get on root canal procedures. Learning about what actually would be done, along with reassurances from others, eased my mind a little bit. Still, I felt really, really nervous that morning of the appointment. Questions were running though my mind like, How long will it take? How much pain will there be? Will the doctor find any other problems? Will he chew me out?
Lucky for me, the endodontic procedure didn’t turn out as bad as I had thought. I’ll note first that it took just over an hour for the whole procedure, from the time the assistant first numbed my mouth to when the doctor told me, “we’re all done and you’re good to go” (no all-day endurance test, thank goodness). The whole thing pretty much went according to form: The doctor drilled an opening in the top of the tooth, cleared out the infected pulp tissue (the reason the tooth was “dead”), filled the tooth’s canals with a substance called gutta-percha, and capped it with a temporary cement filling. Before I left, the endodontist gave me a painkiller prescription for once the novacane wore off. Luckily for me, the pain wasn’t too discomforting once the numbness subsided. In fact, I was pain free and in good spirits when I returned to work the very next day.
A couple of things I should add about the experience: I asked a lot of questions during the procedure… well, I asked as best as I could with a mouth covered in a rubber dam and full of novacane and dental drills. At least the endodontist was able to interpret my unintelligible drivel and give a play-by-play that eased my mind as much as the pleasant music he had playing on the nearby stereo. As you could tell by this point, I was awake during the entire process, able to drive home afterwards. Yeah, I could have preferred to been knocked out the entire time, as I was when my wisdom teeth were removed (a story for another post), but let’s just say it was less expensive for me to be awake (and besides, there would’ve been nobody to take me home).
Of course, that wasn’t entirely the end of the story: The tooth had only a temporary filling, meaning I had to go back to the dentist for a permanent crown. Before then, I had to take care with chewing food, going so far as to chew on the opposite side of my mouth from the tooth lest I disturb that temporary filling (which felt as if it had the consistency of paper mache). Once that permanent crown was fitted and placed by the dentist, the long ordeal of my dead tooth was finally finished.
As I noted up top, that was my first root canal procedure but not my last. I had a second endodontic procedure on another tooth (lower right side) 4 years ago. It took just a little less time than the first procedure but left me with a little bit of pain that, thankfully, a prescription took care of. That’s the thing about root canals: No two teeth are alike, and neither are root canal procedures.
To sum up, having a root canal procedure may sound scary to someone who’s never had one before, but it isn’t the end of the world. What will be the end of the world, however, is if you let it go untreated, for it will lead to tooth abscess, possibly gum problems, and a serious infection that may require getting that “dead” tooth pulled from your mouth. And, really, who would want a smile that’s missing a tooth? (No, I’m not talking about you, hockey players.) So, don’t be like I was after I moved down to Madison. Go see your dentist regularly. I myself now get semiannual checkups from my dentist — who, for the record, works from the same clinic where I first got that cavity fill that revealed a dead tooth within 48 hours. I could’ve gone to another clinic after that experience, but I can be a forgiving person.
And if you do have to get a root canal procedure… again, it’s not as bad as you think it will be. Know that many others have had a similar procedure. Heck, someone you know or love has already had one. I’m sure they will give you reassurance that you’ll be fine once you have it done — that is, if you have it done, of course.