Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Ode To a Root Canal

As I type this, I’m just now beginning to get feeling back in the lower-right section of my face. I just got back from a root canal. For some time now, I’ve been having a good deal of pain with one of my teeth. I was prolonging going to the dentist as much as possible because I’m a cheapskate and every once in a while my teeth problems take care of themselves.

But Christmas is approaching and a significant part of my holiday celebrating involves feasting on delicious food. Especially certain items we only have this time of year. I really don’t know why that is. If we like certain foods why do we have to wait until Christmas to enjoy them?

But I digress, (I do that, don’t I?) The pain was approaching unbearable levels and actually drove me to tears last week before I finally went to the dentist. If I was ever going to enjoy eating and drinking again something had to be done.

So I went in to have things looked at. The pain had gotten so bad I could no longer isolate it to one individual tooth. The whole right side of my mouth was in agony. This meant the dental visit involved tapping, scraping, and rubbing with ice each individual tooth so they could determine which tooth was causing the problem.The verdict was a root canal and then an eventual crown to hold all the repair work together.

I would have been more scared if I hadn’t already had a root canal several years ago. It is a very involving procedure taking around 90 minutes on average, but not much worse than a good-sized filling. And to be able to enjoy food and hot or cold drinks again, was well worth 90 minutes of agony.

My appointment was set up for this week. I’ll try to spare most of the gore for those of you with squeamish stomachs, but if you’ve never had this done, it is really quite fascinating what this involves.

First, you get copious amounts of Novocain injected. For me this is always the worst part of any dental procedure. I donate plasma twice a week and think nothing of it, but those shots in my mouth send me through the ceiling. I really hate them.

That done, they proceed to clamp a very stretchy piece of rubber over the tooth so that only the part being worked on is exposed and the rest of the mouth is covered with a stretchy raincoat. It’s not painful when they put it on, but it feels extremely weird and unpleasant.

The Novocain finishes it’s magic leaving the injected area numb and swollen. Then the fun begins. The dentist now needs to drill out the canal area and all the nerve tissue. The only difference between this and a regular filling is the drilling does go pretty deep. Novocain only does so much so as they clean out more of the interior of the tooth, they need to reapply the medicine so the process continues to be pain free.

I have to say my dentist really is a master at this. He knew exactly when to halt the proceedings and get me some more medication. I won’t go so far as to say it was a pleasant experience but he was really good at trying to make it as painless as possible.

When the excavation is complete, they proceed to fill in the cavity with an inert material. (i.e. stuff which allows me to chew without pain) Then, they took an X-ray to check the filling was complete.

They’ve got these digital pictures now so you can see the X-Ray on the screen right after they push the button. It was cool. There were three canals since it was a back tooth. It looked like the three claws on one of those crane games you see in arcades that never ever give me any stuffed animals.

And that is basically it. Eventually, I’ll need a crown but that needs to wait until next year as I’ve maxed out my coverage. I’ve got a temporary filling covering it up and that is supposed to get me through the next couple months until I can go in for the crown.

The other uncomfortable part for me is the amount of saliva I tend to generate. I seemed to have inherited an everlasting fountain in my mouth. The dentist and hygienist assured me this is a good thing and generally means fewer problems with dry mouth as I get older but it makes me feel like a slob as spit is running down both sides of my mouth.

But oh the joy when the Novocain started to wear off and my mouth felt normal again. To eat without pain is a marvelous thing. I went home that night and grilled some good sized brats. Yes, I was grilling brats in this weather. We also had some cheesy company potatoes leftover from a previous meal so I had a healthy scoop of those as well. It was amazing to be able to bite and chew again without agony.

Bring on the Christmas goodies!


AZJim said...

I know what you mean and where you have been. I have had about 4 root canals and crowns and wouldn't wish them on my worst enemy. (See I read your blog on loving thy enemy) The last root canal I had done they did through the gum and it was better than going through the tooth. Being it was kind of a surgery my dentist sent me to a diferent place. I was amazed at how painless it was. The Dr. and the nurse were both masters at making you feel no pain. The Dr. was good at what he was doing and all the while he was doing his thing, this very nice looking nurse is holding my hand and rubbing my arm. (I think it was to take my mind off what the Dr was doing. Oh well, it worked.) If it makes you feel any better your Grandpa Meissner had one on Monday also. He is doing well too.

Steve at Random said...

I had a root canal done about 12 years ago and it was the wrong tooth. So the "fire" in my mouth wasn't put out...although I, with no dental insurance, was out about $1,500. So I had to go back and have another root canal. In a couple of years, my dentist told me that the back tooth (which was the second root canal) had a crack in it so he removed it for about $100 and I had to pay for an inplant, about $2,000. Aren't teeth wonderful. No wonder Kentuckians simply go without.

randymeiss said...

My first root canal was an experience like Steve's. I had already had a crown on the bad tooth so that required a special (aka more expensive) procedure to drill the canal through the crown.

That worked for a couple months and then I started having problems, which led to a root amputation. That worked for awhile until I finally had to have the thing pulled.

I still have the "gap" created by the tooth pulling. I'll get a bridge put in when the kids finally get out of braces.

Teeth can be extremely expensive. It's even more discouraging when, after all that work, you end up having it pulled anyway.

I still remember the Christmas card we got from my "former" endodontist. Him and his staff in front of his beautiful house standing around a vintage vehicle he had restored. I'm so glad I was able to help finance his activities.

Steve at Random said...

I should also comment about getting my wisdom teeth pulled. I was living in Baker and the dentist said it would be no fact, he guaranteed I would feel like going out and dancing once the procedure was over. Well, he couldn't even deaden the teeth so he commenced to drilling down the middle so he could put a needle in and finally deaden the tooth. Wow, I was screaming as I had never felt worse torture, not even from my two older brothers. My mom, who was out in the waiting room, had to leave the office and sit in the car. At the time, I was writing a weekly column for the local newspaper. The dentist made me promise that I would never write a column about my wisdom teeth extractions. The lesson learned is that wisdom teeth should be cut out, not pulled.

randymeiss said...

I had my wisdom pulled when I was younger also. They did the upper and lower on one side, then two weeks later did the other side. My experience was a lot less painful than yours. They were able to deaden everything in my mouth. Then they split the top teeth into two pieces and the lower teeth were each split into 3 pieces and they pulled the pieces out individually.

My problem was that they took so long to heal. I was coughing up and swallowing blood for almost a month afterwards and had to have gauze packs stuffed in the back of my mouth. That's right, I said I was going to keep the gore out of this, oops. Deanna was my girlfriend back then and commented regularly how bad my breath was after that.

Kristopher and Crew said...

I had my wisdom teeth pulled in MT, and they knocked me out for the procedure (I have abnormally long roots and soft enamel, a bad combination) They misjudged my weight for the procedure and I woke up in the middle of it, screaming uncontrollably. That was one rough recovery. My teeth have been a source of constant irritation and money sapping for me, maybe Steve's idea would work, move to kentucky. I do like mashed potatoes and jello...