Yesterday I found myself in a predicament. I had an appointment at my new dentist with the Endodontist, which is a fancy name for a dentist who specializes in treating and diagnosing tooth pain, and performing root canals. Now I am no stranger to the root canal. My teeth are jacked up (remember my implant that I just had placed like two months ago), I have always been a “problem” patient. “Problem” meaning that I am both completely terrified of the dentist and “problem” meaning I always have something that needs attention. Which I guess also makes me an ideal patient since I pay a lot of money to whichever office I frequent. Because obviously dentists are just money-hungry, Wall Street Tycoon types who desire patients with loads of problems who need to be given Xanax before a simple cleaning and have panic attacks during cavity fillings. Ahem…
Yesterday’s appointment was because I had complained of tooth sensitivity to my new dentist here in Georgia. She did x-rays and wondered about a root canal I’d had performed many moons ago. Like 15 years ago. It was my first root canal and I had it done when I was like 20. Yeah, fucked up teeth. Anyway, she thought maybe it was failing me and that the Endodontist would need to retreat that tooth, something that he does quite a lot and seems to be no big deal. She put me on a round of antibiotics because I had developed an infection under the failing root canal. So I was all, cool. In fact, that was my only problem. I have zero cavities (something that has NEVER happened when I do my annual check-ups). I finally felt like I had my mouth under control.
Then I got to my appointment yesterday. The Endodontist was a funny guy, middle-aged, and graying. He had a soft voice and was very gentle in his movements and his demeanor. He looked at my x-rays and said that while my 15-year-old root canal (tooth #30) was in fact failing me, he thought that wasn’t my only problem. He explained that while I did have an infection, it wasn’t a big deal, and surely wasn’t the reason that I had sensitivity, since I had a root canal done on that tooth. That is when the real pain started.
He explained to me that he was going to dip a small piece of cotton into a container that would make it four degrees, then he would touch that to a couple of teeth and see how I feel. He told me to raise my left hand when I felt the cold. First he put it on the tooth with the root canal and after a few seconds I felt a little cold so I raised my hand. Cool. Cool. Then he put it against the tooth next to the one with a root canal and after a couple of seconds I almost jumped out of my damn chair. Having this small cotton ball, measuring four degrees, against this tooth (#31) was the absolute worst pain I have ever felt in the dentist chair. And it lingered. It lingered in my mouth, even with my tongue over it to warm it up, and my hand to my cheek. Then a top tooth started to hurt. I asked him why and he said it may have moved to another tooth. So he did the same thing with a couple teeth up top. For the first one I felt cold, but no pain. For the one next to it (#3) I almost hit him in the face. At this point I suspected he was doing it to be mean. He assured me he was not, and that he would stop.
So what does that mean? I need two root canals, on top of the one retreat that I also need. Both teeth that responded to the four degree cotton ball had cracks in them. Cracks from fillings. He explained that when a filling is too big, it expands and can crack the tooth in minimal ways so that it is not seen with the naked eye, but it can be cracked to the root. Which turns out, is my case. For both teeth. So I went from having most of my ducks in a row to being in the dentist chair for three and a half hours yesterday to get one of the root canals started.
Now this dentist is thorough. Did I mention that? That is the reason that I liked my old dentist in Denver, NC, Dr. Ellis. Dr. Ellis is thorough, and he would explain all that he was doing and he was reasonable. He would say things like, “Well this is going to cost you $10,000, so let’s do it in parts.” Reasonable, right? Same with this Endodontist. He suggested we start with tooth #31 and work our way in. So I had an unexpected root canal on a bottom tooth yesterday and I was not super, uber happy about it. But, there was a moment, when I had two men rooting around in my mouth, sunglasses on my face, and they were discussing Megan Markle’s baby, and the show Sons of Anarchy, and whether or not kids would eat Tide Pods this summer, and suddenly I felt at home. At peace. I went to a very zen-like place. And then smoke started coming from my mouth, and there were sizzling and popping sounds as the rubber melted into my empty canals and the Endodontist was all, “This is normal… well for me I guess, probably not for you.” And just like that I was alert again and wondering where my life went wrong.