Nothing Funny About Root Canal

by Lisa


I did a second drawing of Beauty and the Beast (see first) but this one is in charcoal on rough watercolor paper. I think I may give this one to the endodontist I went to Monday for him to post on the ceiling over the chair where he performs root canals with no laughing gas.  That way, the patients will have something on which to focus. And here is where the faint at heart should turn away and read Little Women instead.

Now, I know that some of you may think that Bill and I have a propensity for exaggerating, or I for complaining.   But the following is the true unadulterated story of a Marathon Man-like nightmare I experienced on Monday morning getting a root canal.

I was told that I needed a root canal by my dentist and that it was too complicated for him to do. Time to see an endodontist, but who? My dentist  did not know who one who was a Blue Shield provider and I would have to find one on my own. Basically, I picked one at random from Blue Shield’s list and it turned out he was a UCLA professor aside from having had a practice for 25 years and I thought – well he must know his stuff. Now, I am not a good dental patient in the first place, but pile on the unknown of a random doctor with a “complicated” root canal, and I look like Leonardo da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man going through the door.

After being coaxed into the chair, the doctor asks for the syringe. Whoa, hold on there dude. “Where is the nitrous oxide?” I ask.  He explains in his thick accent, the origin of which I can’t quite discern, that he no longer uses it because he finds that people come there just for the nitrous oxide. OH I’M JUST SURE. I want a root canal for the little buzz that a few whiffs of laughing gas will give. He tries to convince me further of it’s lack of merit by telling me that it does not get rid of pain–that it only relaxes you. I really had to resist a California, “DUH”.

He begins with injection number one, after which, he explains he will leave the room for a few minutes while it takes affect.  Upon his return we discern that indeed, the tooth is not yet asleep.  Shot number two.  Nope.  Shot number three and five minutes later, convinced he has deadened the tooth (or that I am imagining pain), he places the rubber sheet with the hole for the victim tooth and as he pushes it down around the tooth, he pokes his instrument into my gum.  I just about displace the air above us. Hmmm. Not dead yet. Shot number four. Again with the rubber thing, again I jump. By now, I’m shaking badly and not feeling at all good about this. He gives plenty of time for shot number five to sink in.  He has told me that he cannot give me anymore  lidocaine than this for safety reasons.  After 10 minutes, we think the tooth is dead, the placement of the rubber thing is successful and it is really time to commence with the drilling.

I grip the arm rests (funny they are called that), and I am ready to barrel through.  He starts drilling.  Within about 15 seconds, I get shooting pain and I shriek.  Now he has compromised the tooth and must keep going.    I notice that he is sweating as he takes a syringe and injects lidocaine directly onto the tooth. The initial squirt hurts the enflamed nerve and makes me jump again.

It deadens the very surface and he drills until I shriek again. My feet come off the table, and I am in flight position trying to sit up now, but he sternly tells me not to panic and to lay back. Feet back down; head back;  more lidocaine on the surface of the tooth; drilling and pain.  I burst into tears, but he can’t stop in the middle and leave a gaping hole in my tooth. More lidocaine and pain, and this  goes on until it is done and I am ready to drop from exhaustion. In fact, I stand up and almost pass out.  I have to sit for several minutes with my head between my legs.

Apparently, what I had was ‘hot tooth’–one that could not be anesthetized. They asked me if I had taken any medication before coming since that can sometimes negate the anesthetic. Of course, I wanted to say, “Why, for the love of GOD, don’t you ask people that BEFORE they come for a root canal?”  But I could only grunt “uh-uh,” since they asked me while my mouth was jacked open.  Indeed I had not taken anything.

I am an anomaly.  This does not happen often at all, and the doctor explained to me that he tells his students about a similar problem he had had with another patient.  I imagine, I was added to the doctor’s repertoire of freak stories.  I know I’m not looking forward to the next root canal in my life. In fact, I think I’ll convert to baby food.

This entry was posted in Drawing, On Suffering, Rants, Still Life. Bookmark the permalink.

17 Responses to Nothing Funny About Root Canal

  1. Jala Pfaff says:

    Oh my god. I can’t even get a TEETH CLEANING without nitrous. I’m serious.

  2. Angela says:

    Oh yuck! I had tears in my eyes by the end of this – how awful!
    I always make sure they have the ‘gas option’ when scheduling a dentist appt. Can’t handle those novocain shots at all.

    When I got my wisdom teeth pulled I remember them starting to work and I could totally feel everything but could not move (had been gassed) – that was terrifying! – but the next move from them was the nurse reaching down to help me sit up and me thinking, “Thank God! She realizes by the look in my eye!” But she just told me I was done and could go.

    Was the weirdest experience – I didn’t remember any moment of going to sleep, blackness or anything of the sort – just counting backwards, them starting and being sent home.

    Was a weird experience for my 13 year old brother also who was left in charge of me. I don’t really remember, but apparently I made him walk to the store with me to buy Ramen Noodles and hold my hand the entire time, and I also tore the kitchen up – literally pulled all the major appliances away from the wall and into the middle of the floor – because I insisted our hamster was back there. We’d never owned a hamster. I was 18 at the time. He loves to tell that story.

  3. wrjones says:

    Lisa – I have to admire the way you go after blog material. I don’t think I could endure this sort of punishment just to have something to post.

  4. Rhonda says:

    Oh, this hurts just reading it! I’m so sorry that happened to you, Lisa. My latest dentist is good enough to know I have such anxiety when going – he says, Either you take Valium ahead of time, or I do! He doesn’t want me tensed and ripping the arms off his chairs just from his checking my teeth.

  5. Susie says:

    That is just wrong, wrong, wrong! Lisa, call me next time, I have a hook-up on all the best dentists in town.

  6. Dar says:

    How awful! You’d have been better off yanking that out at home with pliers and a bottle of whiskey. Ooo, how’s that for your next still life?
    I just had a root canal too. I’m procrastinating on getting the crown. I’m holding out for a tiara. My experience wasn’t as bad as yours, but don’t tell Bill. It’s my excuse for not painting.
    Both versions of ‘beauty and the beast’ are terrific.

  7. Lisa B. says:

    I’m avoiding the dentist for the same reason. I’m hoping the stupid thing will just fall out. However, you might want to read about your “hot tooth” at this site:

    PS. Next time, bite the SOB.

  8. lbtowers says:

    Lisa, that was so interesting. I read every word of it. Now I am really ticked off at this doctor, and I feel like calling him up and asking him if indeed he tried the two special techniques for deadening my tooth that obviously had a complicated nerve structure. Mind you, this is a UCLA professor of endodontics. Problem was he seemed a little jaded, almost impatient about getting started with drilling. Ew. I can’t think about it anymore. My jaw is STILL locked today.

  9. Oh man, Lisa, this sounds excruciating. Just for the record, morphine doesn’t take pain away either; it only makes you not care so much. I found that out when I shattered my wrist a few years ago falling off a ladder.

    Lovely charcoal drawing, by the way!

  10. Barbara Pask says:

    Oh my. You sure went through it, what a horrible experience. Even at its best going to the dentist sucks. Nothing more invasive than having a dentist in your mouth and I mean nothing, lol.

  11. Rebecca says:

    OMG!!! I have that same problem. We are sisters, aren’t we? This happens to me every time..Always need so much novacaine that my face droops for several days afterward!! In fact, the last time, my dimple disappeared for 2 SOLID WEEKS!! I was really worried.

    I didn’t read this earlier, because I thought it was your other post! he he.


  12. KTAB says:

    That sounds just atrocious! This morning I found out that I have a very large cyst and will need to have two root canals on the adjacent teeth. I had to pay a little extra ($35 for 90 minutes) but there was no resistance when I asked; I had an awful experience similar to yours (7 visits to finish the root canal..and another 2 for the crowns!)…I live in Southern California, though, so maybe this is a unique weird Cali thing, but in all of the color ads in the phone book they advertise sedation (oral) dentistry–basically a couple sleeping pills before you go in, as well as nitrous as an option; even for just teeth cleanings. A couple dentists are even running ads on the radio for “Free nitrous for the month of February!” Anything to get a leg up on the competition, I guess. Maybe next time you’ll want to find a provider who is a little more sympathetic (or generous with the sedatives.) And it sounds like you already know it, but if you have or can get a couple Valium or Xanax, that can help, too– even more conservative dentists are usually willing to prescribe a couple for an anxious patient. Nothing dramatic, but maybe you’ll be a little more relaxed.

    Here’s hoping you won’t have to worry about this stuff for a while.

    PS- And hey look on the bright side, at least you didn’t have to get a tooth pulled in Peru WITHOUT any topical or general anesthetic, like a friend of mine did. I think I might have just let it fall out on it’s own. Compared to that, we’re positively blessed.

  13. Lissy Chesno says:

    OMG – I just had a root canal last week – March 2017. Your description was EXACTLy how mine went. However, my endodontist put me on an antibiotic for a week [when the first root canal was painful], but it didn’t help my “hot tooth.” When I returned a week later, and when I could barely take the pain, while my tooth bled profusely, she said she gave me as much local anesthetic as possible and to “suck it up.” Unbelievable. I will go somewhere different should I ever need another. When I asked about laughing gas – before the procedure, she said you still feel the pain and the laughing gas was only for anxiety. She would not use it.

  14. wrjones says:

    Yikes! I had a root canal not long ago. I think I had about 10 injections before he began on tooth. But there was no pain during injections or during the work. My mouth didn’t wake up until about 10PM.

  15. Lisa says:

    Lissy, thanks for the comment on this very old post! So sorry to hear you experienced the same nightmare. I feel your pain! In fact, I am currently barreling toward another root canal myself, again on the exact opposite tooth, and I am too scared to do it. They will have to use propothal! I can tell you this my comrade in pain, it’s makes for good material! You’ll be telling this story for years to come at parties. Be sure to show them all which tooth it is for added effect.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s