You might already be cringing, squirming, or even clicking away from this post from the word “dental” alone. It’s a topic that we all dislike, but we have to deal with it at some point in our life. I’m sharing my experience with you in case you or someone you know is getting a root canal treatment and want to know a little more about the experience.
I’m in no way affiliated with a dentist, nor am I an expert in dentistry, so I am simply writing about what my experience was like. I’ll include a few resources I found helpful too; I researched the procedure before going in for the root canal so I could feel better about it.
I’ve been fairly lucky with my teeth in that I haven’t had any major concerns. I had braces for 11 months in high school, which straightened out my teeth very nicely. And then I of course didn’t wear the retainer after that because I was transitioning into college and didn’t want to wear it. That was silly because my bottom teeth shifted a little bit.
Other than that, I’ve visited the same dentist twice a year (once every six months) for cleanings, to make my teeth were clean and healthy, and to fill any cavities. I’ve been going to this dentist since I was in middle school, so I felt comfortable going to them for the root canal. Like I said, I luckily haven’t had any major concerns previously, and I am very thankful for that!
However, a week and a half ago, a tooth on the right side of my mouth started hurting. It just felt like a toothache, so I thought maybe it was something minor? That was on Tuesday.
Wednesday came and went, and it was still hurting. I didn’t take any medicine because I tried to be tough. Then, Thursday hit. The tooth was THROBBING. I’d never felt anything like it before. What the heck was this?!
There was no way I could ignore it. On Friday, I took some ibuprofen, drove to work, and called my dentist as soon as they opened that morning. They asked if I could come right at that moment. I was in the parking garage at work, just in case they didn’t have any appointments, so I drove all the way back home and met with a specialist.
One of the dental assistants, Joan, took x-rays of my back right teeth. She had a feeling it was my molar, the second to last tooth, but needed to confirm this. Joan pulled up the x-ray on a computer screen. She clicked on the x-ray, clicked on the specific tooth in a program (that was so cool), and she could see the entire history of the tooth!
What time is it? Toothurty.
According to the notes, I’d had a cavity and a filling in that tooth, dating all the way back to 2006, and then again a few years ago. She explained that it might be an infected nerve, which calls for a root canal procedure.
Joan compared the situation to a tree – the root canal requires the removal of the tooth’s nerve (pretty much killing the tooth), but the tooth will still stay intact and look the same. When a tree dies, it might be hollow inside, but it still stays in place on the outside and you can still see its beauty.
Next, Joan took me back to see the dentist. As I sat in the reclined chair – the chair of death – she used an instrument to tap on that tooth. “OW!” That was the one.
The dentist came over to examine the tooth and review the tooth’s history, and sure enough, she confirmed my fear. I’d need to get a root canal.
Thankfully, they had a Friday opening. I hoped to spend the weekend recovering.
I spoke with the receptionist about my payment options (how much was covered by insurance, payment plans, credit card, CareCredit), and then I was off on my way.
Once I got in my car – to drive all the way back to work – I started crying. Why did my tooth give up? Why did I have to get a root canal?? I felt scared. It was expensive, and I’d never experienced an invasive procedure outside of braces.
Mentally preparing for the root canal
I had one week to prepare for this. I spoke with friends who already had the procedure, which helped. Online videos also helped me get a better idea of what was going to happen. I was trying to educate myself, and that really helped calm my nerves.
Unfortunately I had to use my last bit of paid vacation time to take the day off. This was NOT how I planned to use it, but I was also thankful I wouldn’t be losing any major work hours or pay. I worked through lunch the whole week to take the entire day off.
Then, Friday morning arrived! I was ready…a little nervous, but I was ready. My family accompanied me since I needed moral support, and I needed a ride to and from the dentist’s office! I wouldn’t be able to drive after the root canal procedure.
We arrived at 9:25 a.m., just before the 9:30 appointment. I barely sat down when one of the dental assistants walked out to greet me. She asked how I was. I started crying.
What the heck, again?! I was fine! Until she asked how I was doing! I felt like a baby. I barely spat out “good” in response, and I felt bad for not engaging her in conversation.
She guided my family and me to one of the rooms. I sat back down in the dreadful, reclined chair in the very back of the office. There was some privacy, which was nice. She calmed me down and told me I had nothing to worry about, and then handed me tissues. She and my family had me laughing, and then I felt a little bit better. I blocked out the thoughts of fear.
The dentist walked in, mentioned she saw I was crying, and then told me how her son also cries around needles but never cries when he gets hurt playing sports. It’s the anxiety that gets to us!
The dentist explained all the steps she would go through during the root canal procedure. That gave me a nice little agenda to understand what we were doing. Then, she began numbing the right side of my mouth with a cotton swab.
Counting the number of tiles on the ceiling
I started to feel a tingling sensation in my cheek. Once the numbing kicked in, the dentist stepped away for a little bit. She instructed me to take deep inhales and exhales to get the anesthesia working. My body started twitching a little, and then I felt really uncomfortable. The procedure hadn’t even started yet, and I wanted to run out of there!
I kept reminding myself that I’ve been through back surgery and far worse pain, so I needed to keep pushing through. I also thought about how delicious some Tijuana Flats would taste at that moment to distract myself from the discomfort of the numbing. That helped me focus on what food would taste like again. The right side of my mouth felt really numb, and then the dentist returned to begin the root canal.
Joan used a humongous retractor to keep my mouth open so the dentist could examine my teeth. My mouth is pretty small, so they kept asking me to open up as the procedure went on. They were only holding about 4 dental tools in my mouth at a time, all while trying to keep my drooling under control, so it was no big deal (yeah, right!).
There was some scraping, some drilling, and loud tools working. The dentist explained what she was doing before switching tools each time: “I’m going to clean the inside,” “We’re preparing the crown,” “You’ll hear this sound with this tool.” That helped the anxiety. By this time, I’d forgotten about my fears and I just counted the number of speckled dots and tiles on the ceiling.
Finding the root
That took about an hour. They sat me up, and we took a little break. I called my family – as in, I called them from my phone.
I didn’t want to get up – I was barely sitting up properly, and the whole right side of my face was numb. They visited me from the reception area and made me laugh – barely audible since I was all numb! And then the dentist returned and worked on my three tooth roots.
She killed the nerves, and then she and Joan prepared to place the posts / metal rods in my tooth to seal the root. I avoided looking at all the tools she used so I didn’t get freaked out.
That started to hurt, so I let her know that it bothered me. I couldn’t do much but raise my hand, or let out a little groan, which they picked up on immediately.
The dentist numbed my mouth AGAIN. This one helped a lot because I couldn’t feel ANYTHING on the side of my mouth now. It was also very uncomfortable.The numbing tingled from my mouth, to my nose, all the way up to my right eye!
Give me a crown fit for a princess.
Finally, the dentist placed the rods in my tooth. I didn’t feel anything, thankfully. I only felt the vibrations of the tools she was using, and I felt water when they’d rinse out my mouth from all the medicine.
During this time, the crown was being made nearby. I was thankful my dentist was able to perform the root canal and cap the tooth with a crown so I wouldn’t have to return on a separate visit.
As soon as all three posts were in place, they placed the crown on the tooth to seal the deal. They asked me to bite down on some paper a few times to help it dry.
I couldn’t feel ANYTHING in my face at all. My stomach was grumbling. I ate breakfast 3 hours ago. I was starving, but I could barely move my mouth.
They sat me back up at the end, and then they pulled out an “arm” from a cabinet to my left. This arm / machine extended to my right side to take the x-ray. I didn’t even have to move! My family visited again, tried to make me laugh (through my teeth, quite literally), and then I was on my way!
Trust and comfort are important factors in choosing a dentist.
The whole procedure took a little more than two hours. It flew by, but my tooth ached right after. They prescribed pain medicine, my family drove me home, and then I rested.
I am so thankful it was a successful procedure and that my dentist was so helpful. If you or someone you know needs to go to the dentist for a major procedure like a root canal, I recommend going to someone you trust.
Schedule an interview if you’re visiting to a new dentist. Ask them about their education and experience, and make sure you are comfortable with the dentist you choose. You have to be ready for your close-up!
Do you have any helpful tips, comments, or a story you’d like to share? Let me know in the comments below! I’d love to hear it.