Saturday, December 26, 2009

Root Canals: Better than they Used to Be

"Root canal" used to be a metaphor for pain. When the dentist told me last week that I had to have one (or else have the tooth pulled), I didn't know what a root canal was. I only knew that it couldn't be worse than the tooth infection that brought me to the dentist.

The day before, after going to bed feeling fine, I work up with what felt like a recurrence of my TMJ problems. By mid-afternoon, I couldn't bite a sandwich without intense pain. I tried cloves, vanilla extract, ibuprofin, and acupressure, some of which brought mild relief.

The next day, after examining me, the dentist pulled out his I-phone and played a computer generated video of a root canal. A tiny, flexible drill removed the affected nerve and the space left by it was filled. It seemed simple enough, but I had a few questions:

ME: Can't the infection be cured with antibiotics?
DR: No, the infection will go away and you'll feel better for about a month. Then it'll come back. The nerve has to go, either through a root canal or tooth extraction.

ME: How long will it take?
DR: About an hour. There's only one nerve in the tooth that's affected [a bottom front tooth].

ME: Do you use a local or a general anesthetic?
DR: Local.

ME: How do teeth get infected?
DR: Trauma to the tooth, fillings, grinding your teeth. But I've seen infections that didn't seem to be caused by anything.

DR: Do you want something more for the pain than ibuprofin?
ME: Sure.
DR: I'll give you a prescription for Vicodin.

I didn't ask about pain--I assumed it would be painful.

I was mostly wrong.

No comments: