Root Canals – Some Practical Advice

I recently needed to have a root canal. My first reaction, of course, was fear. “Root canal” has become the poster-child for All Things Painful and Bad. Turns out, it wasn’t really that bad. It’s about as invasive as getting a filling – it just takes longer. The Novocaine shot is really the only part that hurts. Here are some tips if you find yourself in the same situation:

Before the Root Canal

  • Don’t waste any time: An abscess (a bad infection inside your tooth) reduces the pH of the surrounding tissue. This impedes the effectiveness of local anesthetics (like Novocaine). When you hear a horror story about a root canal, it’s probably because the tooth was really infected by the time they made it to the doctor.
  • Don’t drink alcohol: This might just be me, but having a drink just made my tooth hurt worse. I attributed it to increased blood flow to my head. Who knows. Regardless, having a drink seemed to make things a lot worse.
  • Treat the pain: I’m not a doctor. Let’s be clear on that. I did, however, find some things that helped with the pain:
    • Take more Ibuprofen: Again – I’m not a doctor! But you can probably take more Ibuprofen than is indicated on the packaging. I found that I needed to keep a written log, though, of what I took and when. A toothache has a way of making you stop thinking rationally.
    • ‘Swish’ with rum: Although I don’t recommend drinking alcohol when you have a toothache, I did find that swishing some booze around in my mouth did an OK job of acting as a local aesthetic. This might be placebo, but it helped me. Orajel did absolutely nothing for me. The pain is inside the tooth. Seems like if the rum worked that the Orajel should. Not in my case.
    • Keep the head elevated: When you sleep, use an extra pillow. Too much blood to the head = painful throb = no sleep.

During/After the Root Canal

  • Find a dentist/hygenist that you like: You’re going to have to listen to the dentist and their assistant make small talk for about two hours. If your dentist is a jerk, this is just gonna make things worse. It doesn’t hurt if the dentist/hygenist is cute.
  • Pack your iPod with tunes: plan on going to your happy place. Your dentist may be irritated that they have to nudge you every time they need to talk to you, but screw it – it’s your mouth we’re talking about here. They’ll get over it. Be sure you can work the pause or volume with one hand so that you can stop the music when they do need to talk to you, though.
  • Take it easy for a day: You just got a root canal. Your boss will cut you some slack. “Root canal” has magical properties. Stay home and watch TV all day.

So long, Joe

I was saddened to see Joe Miller’s name among those laid off by the N&O this week. I’ve long been a fan of his Take It Outside column. Holly and I had the pleasure of riding with Joe for a few miles during the inaugural Cycle NC back in ’99. Joe’s a friendly guy with a heart for outdoor recreation. I wish him well.

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