Root canals get a bad rap

-A A +A

Dentist assures her that procedure has advanced

By Stephanie Hornback

“Root canals get a bad rap.”

So said my dentist Wednesday. I was at his office to have a troubled tooth checked before leaving for vacation next week. The tooth’s crown had been having issues, making it terribly sensitive to anything hot or cold. Tired of lukewarm food and long deprived of two favorites, ice cream and coffee, I made what is surely one of the most dreaded trips in modern times – to the dentist’s chair. The tooth had begun to hurt even when I breathed through my mouth, and I didn’t want to be sitting on the beach focusing on a throbbing jaw instead of sand and surf.

After checking the tooth and its X-ray, the dentist suggested a root canal – and, just my luck, he had time to do it right then. Have you ever had to make a snap decision about whether to get a root canal? I don’t wish it on you, unless you’re much more comfortable at the dentist’s office than I am.

I’ve come a long way. At least I’ll see a dentist as soon as I know there’s a problem instead of waiting until the tooth is irreparable, as I would have done just a few years ago. I finally realized the visits aren’t nearly as painful if you stay on top of things and catch them early. Still, every six months when it’s time to have my teeth cleaned, my knees start shaking and I consider canceling my appointment. I never do, but it helps to dream.

So when the dentist suggested a root canal Wednesday and I had to decide immediately, it was a matter of fright vs. common sense. I was already there, my afternoon at work was clear and I needed to have the tooth taken care of before leaving for vacation. But a root canal? They have the reputation of being the mother of all uncomfortable dental procedures. I began asking my dentist all manner of questions about how excruciating it would be. It never occurred to me that maybe it wouldn’t be painful at all. I wanted to know the degree of misery I was facing.

He assured me root canals had come a long way, and after a little more hand-wringing, I agreed doing it right away was the best choice. I sent some shaky text messages to friends and coworkers to let them know what was going on, and then I was in the chair.

For those of you who cringe in terror at the mention of a root canal, take it from this chicken –  it’s not that bad. After the anesthetic kicked in, I felt no pain, just the usual tugging, vibration and pressure of most dental procedures. The worst thing was keeping my mouth wide open for almost three hours.

Here’s another tip: Get the gas. I had never done it because I didn’t like the thought of my nose being covered by a mask while two people had their hands in my mouth. I’m not terribly claustrophobic, but enough’s enough. But my nerves got the better of me Wednesday and I welcomed the nitrous oxide, or “laughing gas.” It didn’t make me laugh.” I don’t think anything would have at that point - but it did make me care considerably less about what was happening to me. It made my limbs feel a bit heavy and the chair more comfortable.

The tooth’s sensitivity to temperature was gone immediately after the root canal. Even though the area is still pretty sore right now, I can drink hot coffee. That makes the procedure worth it already.

I realized while writing this column that I don’t even know what a root canal is. After some Internet research I have an idea of what I just went through. I’m glad I didn’t know beforehand, however, so I’ll spare you the details in case there’s one in your near future. Just remember that my dentist was right in saying they get a bad rap. I wouldn’t want to do it every day, but it wasn’t the torture fest I imagined.

Stephanie Hornback is news editor at The Kentucky Standard in Bardstown and former graphic artist at The LaRue County Herald News.