Root Canal

Rootcanal As the nitrous kicks in, I am floating sideways, seven feet underwater, thinking suddenly about SSL certificates and dolphins. What is this lame music, I wonder, remembering that the RIAA is suing dentists across the U.S. and Canada to get them to pay royalties for the privilege of subjecting patients to Kenny G. Isn’t that “Grazing in the Grass?” Yes, but neutered. Don’t they know people prefer to listen to Ornette Coleman on laughing gas? I try to flatten the fifth in my mind.

The antibiotics did such a marvelous job of relieving the pain over the past few days. I ask whether we can just call it a sinus infection and forget the root canal, call it a day. “Your mouth is a time bomb, Mr. Hacker,” the endodontist tells me in broken English. Not the first time I’ve heard that one. Bite plate goes in. Dental dam goes in. I am submerged, I am Dr. Yeh’s supplicant. Do with me as you will.

These are not your typical dentist’s drills. The bits are long and flexible, and turn slowly. No whining, more of a whirr. She applies them quickly, changes bits with lightning speed, examines each one carefully. How many bits do you need here? 20? I remember the line in the disclaimer I had to sign, about the prospect of a bit breaking off inside my jaw. Fumble for my phone, snap some self-portraits at arm’s length. Suddenly the good doctor pips in triumph, temporarily bringing me up from the depths. “You see? You see? Dead meat! Dead meat!” She is dangling a nerve from the tips of a small pair of pliers. The nerve is about the size of a few intertwined hairs, a tiny darkened bulb on one end, in the process of dying. It is the culprit, the source of the infection. I start laughing, can’t stop. Let me repeat the scene, so I never forget:

I am now gazing at a nerve extracted from my own body, pulled out of my head by a slowly rotating flexible bit, now dangling from a thin pairapliers. I have never seen my own nerves before, and I am laughing hysterically. Dead meat! Dead meat! I am happy.

They stop every so often to make images. New digital x-ray, no development required, images on an LCD on swivel mount in front of my face, instant vision. Dr. Yeh exclaims again. “Four roots, not three! Less than 5% of population have four roots! You are very special!” And the work continues. The fourth root goes very deep. They have to remove another filling to get it all. Three hours in the chair, total. I could do this all day. Suddenly they’re increasing the oxygen in my mixture, desaturating nitrous in my blood. I am above water. It all seemed so vivid while happening, now suddenly a barely accessible memory. Today will be a couch day.

Music: The Fall :: Last Orders

11 Replies to “Root Canal”

  1. You make it sound fun! ;^)

    My first nitrous experience was in the 70’s, for my first filling. Headphones with county music, not of much interest to me but increasingly amusing as I went under. Groggy, dizzy fun, the walk two block home was disorienting but memorable. None of the dentists I’ve had since use gas.

  2. that was strangely beautiful.

    i came out of general anesthesia [wisdom teeth removal] feeling like i’d slept for half a second, then proceeded to laugh for 3 hours and repeatedly tell my -mom- that it was 500 times better than being stoned.

  3. I curse having good teeth! Look what I’m missing! I was put under for my wisdom teeth removal. Didn’t feel any different after waking up.

  4. Scott,

    I can only assume since you mentioned Ornette Coleman you have some Joe Henry in your collection? His last three albums are pretty good. I have all of his stuff back to the country days, his music spans quite the soundscape. Hope you have zero complications from the Jaw Mining.

  5. Jason, what about Ornette Coleman got you thinking about Joe Henry?

    Thanks for the good wishes. The jaw mining went better than I could have hoped. The remaining frustration is the hole in my palate where the giant syringe went in. Doesn’t seem to be healing up like I’d hope, and it’s super sensitive to bread-like things, strangely enough.

  6. Oh. My. God. That was the most lucid, literate and right on description of the nitrous/root canal process I’ve ever read – too funny! I may be undergoing the same thing in the not too distant future. I hadn’t thought about asking for nitrous this time, but after reading your blog, I totally remember that feeling and it is well worth the odd sensation of the rubber mask over my nose!! Thanks for the memories?!!

  7. Is nitrious a patients right ? My youngest is 14 and is about to undergo his 2nd root canal.First one was very painful…for both of us.I sat next to him as he gripped my hand as hard as he could and i cried as tears ran down my babys face. You would think they would offer the nitrous to a child.The root canal was not done right and he had the tooth removed a year or so later.He is getting another root canal on 10nov10. I am not sure i am ready for it. To see your child cry and that look in his eyes and you would take a bullet for yout own child and yet there is nothing i can do for him.I never want him to feel that way again. He brushes and flossels 2 times a day but he always has 1 or 2 cavaties. I need some info so my son can be more at ease these next few weeks. Thank you

  8. Gary, this is a great question. My wife and I both received nitrous as kids, and I know some dentists do still administer pain killers to kids. If yours refuses, what do they give as a reason? Have you tried calling around to find other dentists? There’s no way a child should have to endure that kind of pain. How horrible.

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