Root canal and adventure are two words that don’t typically go together. Unfortunately for me, my trip to Oklahoma about a month ago was soured by only one thing: a tooth that had started hurting out of nowhere, and would not stop unless I took Advil every four hours. Being as dentally diligent as I am (due to a fear of said root canal), I hoped that it was a temporary inflammation caused by a piece of food, as it felt like it was actually my gum that was mostly hurting. Little did I know, the next month would be nothing short of an adventure and, spoiler alert: it was a root canal after all.
I decided to share my experience with my fellow over-researchers and Googlers in the hopes that I could shed some light on what a root canal is, because if you’re anything like me, you are terrified of the very word and hope to never have to deal with one, ever. I do recommend steering clear of it if possible, as it’s definitely not fun, but as I can attest, dental problems do sometimes tend to come out of nowhere (in my case, it was likely a cavity that went undetected by an x-ray and normal check-up until it was too late), and when they do, it’s often less daunting that we make it out to be beforehand.
It all began when I went to the dentist, hoping and assuming that I would walk out of my appointment pain free. To make a long story short, I was told that I had a ginormous cavity, and that things could go in one of three directions: I would get a filling and be on my way, I would need to have a root canal, or I would need the tooth pulled and replaced. To say I was horrified would be the least of it.
My dentist went the filling route and we agreed to monitor the situation, but more than a week later I was still waking up in the middle of the night with terrible pain and living on painkillers. I couldn’t take it anymore, and was sent to a root canal specialist, also called an endodontist. After a more in-depth x-ray, it was determined that my tooth was pretty compromised and that I had to make a difficult decision: either try the root canal and risk it ultimately not working, or just avoid any potential future agony and pull the tooth.
Ultimately, we decided a root canal was a good decision if there is a good chance of saving my natural tooth, and the next day I was back in the dentists’ chair, petrified of that horrible, vibrating drill. However, while root canals do have a certain stigma, they are no longer the terrifying surgical terror that they were even ten years ago.
As someone with a dentist phobia, I can admit that though I was extremely tense every time that drill touched my tooth, I didn’t feel an ounce of pain and the entire procedure was very smooth. It also helped that I had an extremely comforting endodontist who explained everything she was doing, but even the Novocain shot barely hurt.
The goal of a root canal procedure is to remove the inflamed nerve and pulp inside the tooth (the root of the pain – haha see what I did there?) and clean and seal the tooth. Soon after, the tooth will almost always be capped with a crown to ensure that it doesn’t crack. In my case, I have to be extremely careful because I cannot receive a crown for about 6 months, until I complete my orthodontic treatment.
Often, the procedure is broken up into two appointments. During the first appointment, the tooth is cleaned out, the inflamed nerve is removed and replaced with medicine to clean any remaining bacteria, and the tooth gets a temporary filling. During the second appointment, the dentist fills the actual roots and gives you a permanent filling. Soon after, you will likely go back to get a crown placed.
Despite all the drama and pain that ensued during that month-long ordeal, I was so happy to have the procedure done and the pain be gone. There’s nothing like being in a lot of pain to realize how nice it is to not be in pain. Now I just hope that my tooth can hold out for 6 months before it can be crowned. Keep your fingers crossed for me!
TELL ME: Have you ever had a root canal? Are you terrified of the dentist like me? Also, feel free to ask any questions!