Posted by: chlost | August 5, 2012

At the root of it all

Way back in the olden days-the early 1980’s-I had babies. Three of them.

Following the trend of that time, I had all three babies “naturally”.

Definition: Without benefit of pain relief.

No one prepared me for the pain. It was beyond description, really. I have no valid explanation as to why I went through it three times.

Still. If there was a choice, I would choose another painful labor rather than have a root canal.

Apparently one of the most effective tortures used on prisoners of war was repeatedly and incessantly drilling their teeth without pain medication. My worst nightmare.  In such a situation, I am sure I’d give up top secret, highly classified information at the mere sight of the drill.

And yet, apparently because I no longer have the option of birthing open to me, this week I had a root canal.

My fear and loathing of the dentist goes back many years. I have a very painful history with dentists.  When I was  young, some dentists (including mine) did not routinely use Novocaine when filling cavities. We were a pre-fluoride generation, and cavities were common, meaning lots of painful visits to the dentist. When I was 11, I fainted and chipped my front tooth, requiring many visits to a dentist to cap and then re-cap that tooth. In my later teens,  I had braces on my teeth for over two years which meant routine appointments for the dreaded and painful “tightening” resulting in several days of soup for dinner.

Even as an adult, visiting the dentist was a bad experience. The pain. The smell. The sounds.  Each visit included a scolding and shame for not visiting more often. I break into a cold sweat just thinking about it.

Even with great dental insurance, I avoided going to the dentist.

An image from 1300s (A.D.) England depicting a...

An image from 1300s (A.D.) England depicting a dentist extracting a tooth with forceps. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Thus, the need for a root canal.

The methods of dentistry have improved a bit since my last visit. Now there is something called “pain-free dentistry”.  A more generous combination of nitrous oxide and three injections of Novocaine was fairly effective against the pain. The use of a latex drape that isolates the single bad tooth meant no more rinse and spit. The dentist didn’t even scold me for getting myself into this situation.

But, the smell, the sound, the vibration of the drill, and the cold sweat?  No changes there.

The worst part of it is that I have to go back again. I imagine that I need several more appointments in order to pay for my neglect. Each time I will still fear it, still suffer over the pain.

At least after hours of labor, there was a very real and sweet reward for all of the pain suffered.

Which I still maintain is better than a root canal.



  1. A root canal! Oh, I’m so sorry. I agree with you about it all… would rather have a baby any day than a root canal (and I’ve had 3 kids and 2 root canals). And yes, they have come a long way – but ‘fear of the dentist’ is hard to eradicate. I take very good care of my teeth these days – to avoid any problems. I think part of it stems from the dentist telling me as a child, ‘this isn’t going to hurt’… and it always did.

    • Maybe that is why I never trust anyone who tells me “it won’t hurt”. You’re right. It always does.

  2. It isn’t the dentist who scares me. It’s his hygienist. That perky ever present clone that follows me from dentist to dentist across state lines. Decades pass yet she remains the same : pert little blond bob, never a hair out of place, clear creamy complexion, the bluest eyes and white, white teeth. She is superior because she only drinks water and milk. She not weaned. I am pond scum with my coffee, tea and red wine. Her beside reader is “Dental Hygiene and You.” She lectures on the F word ~ floss. I’m her captive and going to learn to Live for my Teeth before she will relent to let me see the God of Novocain.

    I’m proud to know you. You are a brave, brave woman and lived to tell your story.

    • Funny! You’re so right about the hygienist….she was there at this dentist’s office as well. She always talks in that tone of voice which presumes I am a child and need to be reprimanded (sweetly, of course) to floss and brush.

  3. I have not had either, and I can’t say this is a ringing endorsement. 🙂 Good luck with the dentist. We’re rooting for you.

  4. I just got my third crown; I feel like the Molar Queen. My most recent dentist is a woman with very small hands. I just love her.

  5. Thankfully, I haven’t had a root canal, but from what I’ve heard, they are as miserable as you describe. I hope yours heals up well.

  6. I’ve had root canal twice. The dentist gives me good drugs. If men had to have babies the species would have died out long ago.

  7. Oh, sweetheart, I am so sorry. My usual comparison to a root canal pertains to the time I attended a Boot Camp class at my gym for the first time, and a really crabby, ripped lady hucked a medicine ball at me repeatedly…and the next day I couldn’t even lift my arms to my waist or sit down on the softest chair. Then I had a root canal. I’m still not sure which one was worse. Probably the root canal, for the combination of pain and mental trauma (the dentist decided to do it all in one sitting, which seemed a mercy at the time, but I couldn’t open my jaw for three days).

    Anyhow, um, may the pain killers be strong and effective.

  8. My dental experiences have been a mixed lot. I began needing dental work before pain medication was available for small children, too, but my dentist did his best to minimize my pain. Had a horror story experience with another dentist when Jr. Hi age. A few years ago I had my first, hopefully only, root canal. The worst part was the many hours I had to sit in the dentist’s chair with my mouth wide open.

    I had only one natural birth, my second child, and though it didn’t go completely smoothly … and there was pain … I can best describe the whole experience as wonderful and would have gone through it again. Frankly, it was much better than the first which I had wanted to be natural, only the Dr. convinced me to have labor induced (found out later that was because he was going on vacation the next day.) Miserable experience compared with my natural one.

    Unfortunately natural doesn’t always work for some, as with a family member who tried but ended up having to have cesarean section.

  9. My childhood experience is similar to yours; I have no doubt that, as a kid, my dentist found cavaties were there were none because I had fillings EVERY time I went to the dentist. I remember the dentist drove a really nice car. I shared my dental horror stories on my blog. To this day I am very apprehensive at the dentist.

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