I just had a root canal, my second. It was almost pain-free. In an hour I was out of the endodontist's chair, standing at the reception desk, where I experienced my only real discomfort of the morning.
An $1,115 charge to my VISA card. Ouch!
Dr. O'Neill and I talked some about root canals' undeserved bad reputation. "The Endodontist's Association has talked about a PR campaign to change public opinion," she said, "but it's hard to fight all those stand-up comics and their 'worse than a root canal' jokes."
Well, I'm happy to contribute this blog post to the Association's cause. Fear not, if you've been told you need a root canal. The procedure usually isn't any more painful than a filling.
I agree with Joe. The crown and bridge work I've had done was more uncomfortable than the root canals. The Chicago Dental Society has come up with ten other things that are less fun than having a root canal.
That barely scratches the surface. Whenever the Grammys are on I try to expose myself to music I don't usually listen to. But the rappers make me hit the mute button. You know, listening to that atonal #$!*% is worse than…
The American Association of Endodontists points out the gulf between imagination and reality when it comes to root canals.
In an opinion survey of 1,000 adults conducted by the AAE, 63 percent described root canal treatment as either "painful" or "extremely painful." But those respondents who had experienced root canal treatment were six times more likely to describe it as painless, than were those who had never had treatment.
"Fear of root canal treatment truly is fear of the unknown," Dr. Katz said. "In fact, many patients tell us that they dreaded coming in, but they found the treatment easier than having a cavity filled."
So what accounts for the dread of root canals? Some people have lots of pain caused by the condition the root canal is going to relieve. That's one theory—the pain of an abscessed (or "hot") tooth gets mixed up with the comparatively mild discomfort of the procedure to fix the problem.
Staff at Dr. O'Neill's office offered up another idea: that root canals used to be much more difficult, painful, and complicated than they are now. This hypothesis fits with my memory of watching Westerns on TV, when "Gunsmoke" and such were popular.
A dentist reminds us of those not-so-good old days:
For a large part of human history, the only treatment for these death dealing infections was extraction of the offending tooth. Usually done with an instrument known as a pelican, and without anesthesia except for a bottle or two of whiskey (if the patient could afford it), the tooth was RIPPED out as quickly as possible, most frequently breaking the tooth.
I'll take a root canal instead, thank you.
Here's some recommended waiting room reading: the "Meditations" of Marcus Aurelius, a Stoically inclined second century Roman Emperor. I took a copy along today (Staniforth translation). Marcus' wisdom holds both for the dentist's chair and anywhere else.
All things are in process of change. You yourself are ceaselessly undergoing transformation, and the decay of some of your parts, and so is the whole universe.
…Be like the headland against which the waves break and break: it stands firm, until presently the watery tumult around it subsides once more to rest.
"How unlucky I am that this should have happened to me!" By no means; say rather, "How lucky I am, that it has left me with no bitterness; unshaken by the present, and undismayed by the future."
The thing could have happened to anyone, but not everyone would have emerged unembittered.
Well, not completely. When I get my VISA bill, there might just be a touch of bitterness at the four figure charge for an hour's worth of root canal'ing.
Sure beats drinking a bottle of whiskey and having the tooth ripped out, though. So go ahead and embrace your root canal without bitterness. No matter what it costs.