For as long as I can remember, I have had a gap between my top left molars. When I went to the dentist, back when I was in my teens, he told me that there was nothing wrong with the gap in my teeth as long as I kept it clean. Then he made some sadistic dentist-y joke like “I could just drill into it anyway if you want. Hardy har har.” A then-relieved Renata nervously laughed and declined.
But of course, I didn’t keep it clean. The years following that dentist appointment were full of worry and pain. Most days, the pain wasn’t awful, but some days I just wanted to rip the tooth from my skull Ron Swanson-style.
By the time I went back to the dentist, ahem, 6 years later, they told me I would need a root canal in that tooth. While I wasn’t particularly surprised considering all of the pain that I was in, I was terrified.
Root Canal? You mean that thing that people always use as a gauge for how awful something is!? That budget meeting was worse than a root canal. I’d rather have a root canal than sit through my kid’s dance recital. Oh jeez, reading this blog post is about as fun as getting a root canal.
As someone who was too terrified to even go to the dentist for 6 years, the thought of getting a root canal scared the crap out of me. I asked if I should just get it pulled, but my dentist insisted that saving the tooth would be my best bet. I was also told during that appointment that I needed my wisdom teeth removed, so I decided to take care of those first since I would at least be put under for that procedure. Obviously, getting my wisdom teeth removed wasn’t exactly fun, but after I was finished, I was really proud that I did it. It was my first surgery, and even though it was a minor one, I made it through. I knew that I would feel the same way about my root canal, too. Once I had the courage to go through with it, that is.
I put off scheduling my root canal until literally the last possible second. The day before my 6-month checkup, I called to make my appointment. Little did I know that, since endodontists deal with emergencies so regularly, they aren’t like most doctors where you schedule a month in advance. When I first called the endodontist, the receptionist said I could have an appointment later that week, and I almost soiled myself. “No, no, that’s okay, this isn’t an emergency…can I come in next month?” And, just like that, I was able to walk into my dentist appointment and proudly announce that I had scheduled my root canal — for 4 weeks from then.
On the bright side, my appointment for the root canal came on a day when work was particularly hellish. While most people compare things to root canal by saying how awful and painful they are, I was saying, “Hey, I’m going to get a root canal, but at least I’m not at the office!” Yes, it was that bad.
The root canal itself actually wasn’t that bad. I’m not great with needles, and I warn every doctor that needs to give me a shot about this fear. My endodontist was particularly helpful and reassuring, encouraging me to breathe through it and praising me once it was over like he was giving a child a gold star. Thanks to all of the needles from my root canal, needles don’t even make me nauseous or dizzy anymore! At least not when they go in my mouth.
As much as we’ve heard secondhand about the unpleasantness of root canals, there are some things that they don’t tell you (or, at least, they didn’t tell me). Apparently, it’s common to need to go back for a second appointment to finish the root canal. Yup, after going through the terror and the needles and the mouth-being-held-open-for-hours once, I had to come back a month later and do it all over again.
Then, the week after my root canal, I had to visit my dentist because a piece of my brittle, root-canaled tooth chipped off. I saw it fall into my bowl and panicked. If I needed that tooth pulled after I went through this procedure, I was not going to be happy. I wrapped the piece of tooth in a paper towel, put it in my coat pocket, and began mourning the potential loss of my tooth.
When I went to the dentist for an emergency appointment the next day, they said that they didn’t have to pull the tooth, but I might have to go to a periodontist to get my gum shaved down. WOULD THE TORTURE NEVER END?!
Then, assured that the worst part of the root canal was over, I waltzed into my next appointment where they built up my tooth and took images and impressions for my crown. No big deal, right? WRONG. This appointment hurt worse than the root canal itself. At least for the root canal, they numbed me with several different needles before they started. For the impression and images, they numbed me a bit, but I still felt everything. And in order to separate my gum from my tooth, they had to wedge some nasty-tasting thread into my gums, causing almost unbearable discomfort.
OH AND I ALMOST FORGOT! Throughout this entire process, I had to avoid chewing on the left side of my mouth. I spent months only chewing on one side and not fully tasting my food. Eating, but not being able to taste, my favorite foods was deeply upsetting. But to be fair, the torture did finally end last week. I now have a permanent crown and I don’t need to get my gum shaved!
Fun fact: that piece of chipped tooth is still living in the pocket of my winter coat. I’m not mourning anymore, I just keep forgetting that it’s in there. Ever since I went to my first root canal appointment, though, my ridiculously sentimental side has kept creeping in. I was essentially losing most of my tooth. All of that pain I had and the constant fear I’d lived in knowing that there was something wrong with the tooth were suddenly gone. I had gotten so used to the pain that it had become a part of me. The fear of going to the dentist and getting the root canal had been ever present in my brain. It seemed silly to feel a sense of loss over a root canal, yet there I was, sitting in the chair, telling the hygienist about how weird it was to not feel pain in that tooth.
While I expected most of the pain and discomfort that I experienced during the root canal, the sense of loss I felt definitely caught me off guard. As someone who sucks with change and legitimately has sentimental feelings about something as simple as changing up my yoga mat, I should probably just start expecting my sentimental side to come out. Let’s be honest, though, if I can be sentimental about a root-canaled tooth, what is there that I won’t feel sentimental about?
Photography by my talented fiancé. You can find him on Instagram at https://www.instagram.com/hope_grows_here/