Here I sit, drooling, and barely able to form complete sentences. No, I’m not auditioning for Ace Ventura: The Golden Years. I’ve just had a root canal. Root canal: two words guaranteed to evoke fear in our hearts faster than “tax audit,” “system malfunction,” or “writers’ strike.”
Actually, this is my second root canal in as many months. I blame my poor dental health on my dad, who thought dental hygiene simply meant a toothbrush, fluoride toothpaste, and a pair of needle-nosed pliers. None of us kids ever complained of a toothache.
Root canals, like Mike Huckabee and the Wonderbra, are a lot less frightening when you know something about them. With that in mind, I interviewed my dentist, Dr. Brett, and his assistants, Moe and Curly, to get answers to the most frequently asked questions about the procedure.
How do you know when someone needs a root canal?
There are a number of things we in the dental profession look for, including pain, temperature sensitivity, and a good credit record. A root canal can usually take care of all three of these.
Why is it called a root canal?
Esteemed members of the American Dental Association sat in a bar one night doing tequila shooters, and discussing just this issue. Several names were tossed about, including Decayed Pulp Removal and Sucking Out Bacteria. We thought root canal had a much nicer feel to it. Besides, both Decayed Pulp Removal and Sucking Out Bacteria turned out to be names of heavy metal bands.
You said my teeth are unhealthy—what, exactly, does this mean?
It means you should get them on a good exercise program—quick. I’m only joking: just a little dental humor to ease the tension. Unhealthy teeth are those in which the pulp (that sensitive area we love sticking our sharp instruments into) becomes infected. If left untreated, the abscess is an inflamed area in which pus gathers, much like the House of Representatives. You can see how this would not be a good thing.
Why do I have to wear that stupid rubber thing across my mouth during the procedure?
That is actually known as a dental dam, and we use it for your own safety. The dam helps keep stuff, such as expensive dental instruments and French fries (we gotta eat sometime) out of your throat, thus preventing you from choking. If you were to swallow one of those expensive dental instruments, your dental bill would be much, much higher. Another benefit is that we take your picture while wearing it, and post that picture on our bulletin boards, so we can all have a good laugh when we get, excuse the pun, down in the mouth.
What are you doing when it feels like you are filing out the inside of my tooth?
Exactly that. We clean and shape your root canals with small files. This is a slow and painstaking process that usually bores us silly, so we tend to watch The View’s “hot topics” or text-message our stockbroker while we do it. Not to worry, though. Studies have shown that it’s actually a lot less painful for the patient if we don’t pay attention to what we’re doing.
What types of painkiller are available to me during my root canal?
Most dentists use Novocain, nitrous oxide, or a combination of the two. If you have severe tooth pain, you may ask your dentist for what is technically called a “2 x 4.”
Once I’m in the chair, my mouth full of instruments, how should I communicate with my dentist?
Simple hand signals are most effective. To indicate that the light is in your eyes, simply point to the light. If you have to use the bathroom, you can just hold it (you should have gone before you left home!). If you feel what we in the dental profession refer to as “sensitivity,” but you in the lay public naively refer to as “pain,” a swift elbow to the dentist’s midsection works. Do not, however, under any circumstances, bite your dentist to express your displeasure. He/she needs those fingers to enter the combination lock on his/her new Lexus.
Although my dental ordeal has been terribly expensive and painful, it has been truly worth it. I smile to excess, but I chew with real distinction.
Well, hey, consider the source.
Bye for now.