Root Canal!


Finally after nine months trying to figure out why my lower jaw would hurt like hell intermittently, I collected enough data to be able to tell a dentist “This tooth right HERE!”

Last December I found myself having some mild  tooth pain. It wasn’t localized to a specific tooth, but was coming from the general location of a tooth that I knew had many cracks.

In truth, this particular tooth was being held together with spackle, bondo, and a prayer. This spackle job had been in place five or six years… at the time it was a hell of a lot cheaper than a crown.

Unfortunately, the dentist (who is no longer my dentist) saw this tooth and leapt to the conclusion that I needed a crown to stop the pain. I asked the fatal question “Are you sure?”

The dentist reassured me with a brusk “yes, yes” then ran off to the next patient.

In hind sight that should have been a clue. Additional clues were evident in the number of papers I was being asked to fill out prior to the work being done. Limitations of their liability, signing away my right to an attorney and limiting my avenue of complaint to binding arbitration, ability to pay, how I would be paying, if my payment failed then what was my mothers number & address. Where was my father, how could he be reached, and so on. Many of these documents were being shoved at me while I was in the dental chair.

Under normal circumstances, I’d have gotten up, walked out, then found another dentist. For some reason I didn’t. I don’t know why… so what happened next is completely on me.

$2000 later I had a crown in place of the bondo tooth. 


Then the trouble began. 

Turns out that the dentist installing the crown had for some reason been impatient and hadn’t ground it to match my bite properly.

This meant that instead of the pain I’d been feeling decreasing, it increased, involving the whole lower jaw. Now that I think about it, failure in matching a filling to my bite is how “bondo tooth” came to be in the first place. 

I tend to grind my teeth at night. I really grind the hell out of things if there’s an annoying anomaly in my mouth. So bad filling equals badly cracked opposing tooth. This was another instance of a dentist who flitted in and out letting his assistants do all the work.

I think I begin to see a pattern here.

I’m going to implement a new rule for selection of my dentist, If the dentist is too busy to work on my himself, they’re too damn busy to have me as a patient.

It makes no sense to me that the dental assistants would know my mouth better than the dentist. I was thinking that if each time the dentists sees me, I’m essentially a new patient, how good is the care going to be? The dentist isn’t likely to notice trends or subtle differences where minor intervention would save me both pain and money.


In any case, after two weeks waiting for the new crown and my jaw to settle down and stop hurting, I’m talking to my Mom who tells me exactly what the problem is.

I go back to the dentist, get the other partner and he resurfaces the crown adapting it to my bite. About a week later, the pain is no longer so bad that I want the apocalypse to happen. Now it is at a level that I could kill a few people and get off by claiming bad dental work drove me to insanity. 

In December I had other things going on in my life. Family stuff, the holiday, you know the insanity of the season…


The pain continues dropping and I figure I’m good to go. Then suddenly the pain is back, then its gone, then back. This cycle continues but I’ve got other issues like going to the East Coast to help out my family with some stuff going on there.

I do the East Coast thing, the pain comes and goes and I eat aspirin when it’s really annoying. The really sick part of all of this is that I have good teeth. I seem to have problems with my teeth only after some dentist tries to “Fix” a problem.

I come home, finish some writing, and like most guys just dealt with it.

After the sixth or seventh trip to the dentist about the same thing, you just start to accept that there are no solutions, and that pain will be a way of life till you die. As men we all do it, we don’t want to be babies, we just grit our teeth (if we can) and muddle through.

“GGrrrrrr! I’ve got BIG Fuzzy Balls!”

Its cool we all do it. Ever see someone try to “Walk off” a broken foot? Yeah that’s one tough fucker! Guy respect points +1000, Women respect points +5, Overall smart points -10,000

That’s what I did, I just tried to “walk it off”. I was tired of being reminded I was getting older.

I’m sick of bad medical care and have been considering cutting the expense of medical insurance that is for the most part fucking useless. I don’t have dental insurance, and without an income, the only way to pay for some idiot dentist with no solutions is to charge it. 

(My M.D. being the exception to the rule of generally bad medical care. That guy is awesome and has earned my respect. I trust him with my life. There’s also a great surgeon I know, again awesome and he has held my life in his hands.)

Then my entire jaw lit up like the Kuwaiti oil fields at the end of Desert Storm, and it didn’t stop for two solid weeks.


I knew I wasn’t going back to the previous dental group Tweedeldum & Tweedledee weren’t going to get a chance to see me.

So I spent the next week researching dental offices. I’d already tried the personal referral route and that was a bust, so I thought I’d give the egalitarianism of the internet a crack at it. 

My search parameters were simple, The dentists should be close at hand, not an hour or more away. The dentist should speak ENGLISH, not mangledlish. The office should be bright and clean. The dentist should have NO dings, or outstanding complaints against him or her with the ADA, or any medical board. The dentist should come highly recommended by a wide variety of patients from multiple sources, (yes, I even read the shit on yelp).

In the end I narrowed my selection to one. The dentists and all his staff were shown on their web site. The office shown in the background appeared clean and bright. Overall, the recommendations were good, the only exception being that someone thought the prices were too high. That’s a complaint WE ALL share so I discounted that particular comment.


I set up an appointment. That was easy and they didn’t try to up sell me to cleanings and full mouth x-rays. I had a specific issue and they respected that. The lady directed me to a couple of PDFs on their web site and asked that I fill out the forms contained in the PDFs then bring the packet when I come for my appointment.

“Here we go,” I think. I’m expecting 20 pages of liability clauses and perhaps having to run a contract or two by my attorney before I show up to this appointment.

What I got however, was two very simple pages. One is basic patient information and the other was a standard medical history. How refreshing!

Between the time I made the appointment and the time of the actual appointment my jaw stopped hurting. I think, “Cool! All I have to do is have an imminent dental appointment and I’ll be just fine.”

As the pain faded, I noticed that it localized to a region of two teeth. Finally! Now I had something to actually tell a dentist. “Doc, it’s one of these two teeth, yank ‘em both!”


The day of the appointment I show up with my forms typed up (the office staff loved me for that). I sit in the chair and a dental assistant takes notes as I explain the problem. She says OK, I’m going to take a couple of x-rays of the area so the doctor can see what we’re up against. Cool, I have no problem with that.

The Doc comes into the exam room, he’s about my age. He’s also got a good demeanor and as he’s asking the assistant what going on he glances at the x-rays. Before he’s even finished asking the question he’s pointing at one x-ray and saying that looks painful. He says to me “Good news is, I think we know what the problem is, bad news is you’re probably going to need a root canal. I’m going to do a couple of quick tests.”

I ask how much this is going to hurt.

He replies it’s not going to hurt him at all. He was right!

I like this guy!


He explains clearly what he thinks is going on. But goes on to tell me that he’d like for his specialist to take a look before we start drilling away.

I can respect that. And it’s a FAR cry from the previous dental episode. So this afternoon I’m going to have a root canal, or perhaps not depending on what the specialist says.

It’s expensive but it looks like I won’t need a crown the way they’re planning on doing the root canal if needed.

I’ll update this afterward or tomorrow. Hell, I might even put their phone number in the update. 

 Here’s the update!

As dental procedures go, this was an absolute breeze. I didn’t have to pony up the cash for a crown, because they preserved the tooth as it was.

Basicly the procedure was this:

They numbed me without numbing my entire jaw and all points in between. It really was “LOCAL” anesthetic.

Then the root / nerve specialist drilled straight down into the tooth. This was an incisor and the root is in the center, and generally straight.

Once the nerve was exposed, the specialist said, “yep, this baby is a mess,” then opened the tooth up more so that he could dig all the nasty stuff out.

I remember a smell like antiseptic then some more digging around, and something else that smelled antiseptic. 

Then there was this syringe with a tube on the end. There was some more pressure then some kind of curing process.

It’s hard to describe because I had a dental dam in place and as the specialist was working he by necessity was blocking my field of vision.

Then there was something else I saw only briefly that looked like a fuzzy post, followed by the syringe with the tube on it, and more pressure. 

Then I was done.

They took a digital X-Ray, to check their work and the root canal itself was done.

Really! Just that simple.

I moved to another work bay and the dentist took a look at the X-Ray then put a filling over the opening.

Within two hours, I was normal again, the numbness was gone, there was no real pain. I took an advil that night and haven’t looked back. I’m supposed to go to a follow-up appointment this week just to make sure everything is ok. 

This is the way it’s supposed to be, simple, straight-up, and people that have confidence.

They did have me sign a form saying I understood that things are not always as they seem and that there could be complications that necessitate a change in treatment and perhaps additional costs.

All told, I’ve been presented with three pieces of paper. The previous dentist hit me with nine or ten forms, some of which had to do with indemnification and limitations of liability. One limited my legal options to binding arbitration. 

Which leads me to ask, a couple of questions.

1) Why is there such a big difference between the two places?

2) What was the other dentist so afraid of? Didn’t they have confidence in their work, or abilities?

OK, so it was three questions.

I can tell you this, I think I’ve found my new dentist.