I’ve been having some oral surgery lately, so that’s fun. You can sort of expect it as part of your standard midlife crisis package. A little fear of mortality, some financial dread, and a happy little root canal to round it all out.
Actually, it wasn’t all that bad.
I wish I’d known that going in. ‘Root canal’ is right up there with ‘audit’ and ‘summons’ on the list of Things to Avoid, definitely above ‘going to the DMV.’ Legendary. I can tell you right now, root canals are overrated.
Based on my experience, it was much like getting any other filling. You open your mouth, and then they put in a tennis racket, a toaster oven, and a monkey wrench, it smells like burning, and then you’re pretty much done.
All joking aside, I have some strategies about dentistry that I think really helped me get through a potentially rough situation with comparative ease.
My mom taught me to never annoy anyone who puts sharp things in your mouth. She believes that if you’re late to your appointments or otherwise high-maintenance, medical professionals will take it out on you during your visit. I think she has a point. My whole family went to the same dentist starting when he first graduated from dental school, with his wife as his receptionist. He’s retired now! In our world, dentist = family.
My current dentist grew up in the same small town as my husband, and they’re both hundreds of miles from home. We were quick to capitalize on that sentimental attachment. We always talk about hometown news, the scenery, the weather, etc. Therefore when he’s looking into our mouths it gives him waves of nostalgia.
If it weren’t that, it would be something else. If you’re going to spend hours with someone during your lifetime, especially if they’re wrist-deep in your face, might as well make friends.
I trade book recommendations with one of the dental hygienists and give investment advice to another, who wants to become financially independent. When I show up, at least three people pop their heads out to say hello.
A few years back, I had a different dentist in a different region, and he of course had a different staff. There, we all talked about bicycling. One of that crew regularly destroys me at Words With Friends several years later.
Okay, wait, what does all this have to do with getting a root canal again?
The point is that someone who has warm and friendly feelings toward you is going to give that extra 5% of care. ‘Care’ is their profession, but carING comes from the heart. The only way to make someone genuinely care about you is to show caring toward them first. Give what you wish to receive.
Thus, I walk into the endodontist’s office with feelings of curiosity, awe, respect, and gratitude.
Do you know much about traditional, premodern dentistry?
For that matter, do you know much about 1960’s dentistry??
I made a few observations and jokes during my exam, with the theme of “wow, this is such a fascinating and cutting-edge field.” It really was a remarkably shiny, new office full of cool tech, and as someone who hangs out with a lot of engineers, I was impressed. I follow the corollary of ‘if you don't have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all,” which is:
IF YOU HAVE SOMETHING NICE TO SAY, SAY IT!
I commented that most people throughout history didn’t have access to dentistry, and how lucky I feel that I get to keep my beautiful precious tooth.
“In the past, you would have been standing on my chest with a pair of pliers!” (Probably true)
“Hand me that drill and let’s see what happens.”
The endodontist paused and looked at me. Then he said:
And we were friends.
During the exam, it looked like I would need a root canal in one tooth plus surgery for the resorption on that one AND a second tooth. Worst case scenario, the tooth couldn’t be fixed and I would need either an implant or a bridge.
I came back for the root canal. It turned out he was able to save the tooth AND do such a tidy job that I wouldn’t need the additional surgery.
Let’s pause on that.
This is going to save me significant pain and also a lot of money. We’re already a thousand dollars into this process, and that’s just copays. I’d rather spend that money on vacation, but when I compare it to the cost of an implant, I feel like throwing a block party with a live band.
When I compare any of that to the very vivid image of walking around with a big hole where my molar used to be, I want to kiss this man’s feet.
A 44-year-old woman at most points in the past would look and feel elderly. A big part of that would be her failing teeth. Imagine the shocking pain of gradually having your teeth rot out of your head throughout your adult life. Wild animals starve when they grow old because they lose teeth and aren’t able to chew their food. Horrors!
I feel such tenderness and adoration toward my tooth, I want it to stay with me always and be my tooth forever and ever. Also all the other ones.
Can I say this? I got a root canal, and it didn’t really hurt, not even the shots. After the Novocain wore off, it didn’t bother me at all. I didn’t even take the Advil that was recommended. They warned me it would be sore, but it isn’t really.
There are always multiple ways to look at a situation. (They often say “two” but that is very lazy accounting). One way is to ask, Why does all this stuff always happen to me? Boring. Another way is to be scared and anxious, and that’s relatable. There are undoubtedly other ways. I chose my own way.
I chose to go into a scary situation, something I’d heard a lot about, and bring curiosity and a positive attitude. It worked the same way it did when I had a tax dispute with the IRS. It was totally fine and interesting, and everyone involved was nice, friendly, professional, and efficient.
I went to the endodontist and got a root canal. My positive feelings helped me relax and build mutual trust and respect with the staff. I was treated well. The experience was relatively quick and painless and had great results. I went home on time and cooked dinner for some friends, who were amused at how challenging it is to drink water when half your mouth is numb. It was fine.
Doesn’t it just make you want your own happy little root canal?
I've been working with chronic disorganization, squalor, and hoarding for over 20 years. I'm also a marathon runner who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and thyroid disease 17 years ago.
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