Wednesday, January 25, 2017

No laughing matter

I sure hope I'm done with dentists for awhile. My drug-enhanced journey via a root canal was not quite the trip I expected. I'm pretty sure my anxious mind was overthinking what was going on, causing me to resist the effects of the nitrous oxide, at the same time I was hoping and praying the gas would take me to a happy place of lightness and laughter. 
At age 57 and after a lifetime of receiving dental work -- including cleanings, fillings, crowns, removal of wisdom teeth and, most recently, a root canal -- this was the first time I opted for the so-called laughing gas.
I'd always managed to be calm enough for the injection of the local anesthetic and, despite the physical discomfort of having to keep my mouth open wide and all the various poking and drilling (and the drill's mind-wracking sound), I never experienced real pain. In fact, typically, the worst pain came at the site of the injection after the anesthesia wore off.  

However, my anxiety had increased noticeably after my two most recent major procedures: my original root canal on Nov. 15, as well as the prep work Sept. 13 to replace a crown (the procedure that seemed to have started the whole ordeal on tooth #19). Sure, I had endured both of those, but I recalled some extremely tense moments.
Unfortunately, I continued to have pain after the root canal, and after several follow-up visits to my dentist, I was referred to an endodontist. During my consultation Tuesday, the endodontist quickly ascertained that the dentist, with his level of equipment, had failed to get all of my damaged roots treated and sealed. He said I needed more root canal work on the same tooth. He explained it in such a way that it seemed like the right thing to do.

The only dilemma: I would have to go through that again.
I kept thinking back to the previous experience. I remembered hearing the dentist react to various "surprises" that caused it to take much longer than he expected. I recalled how tense I felt, wondering if it was ever going to end, and how uncomfortable so much of the procedure was. I hadn't panicked, but I came closer than ever before. But I made it through.

Could I do it again? 

One thing that added to my angst was that the endodontist said he would have to drill through the crown. In the overall scheme of things, I'm not sure why that concerned me so much.  But my mind kept sticking on him saying that. And when my active mind gets stuck thinking about something, I'm using headed for trouble!
I had contemplated using nitrous oxide during dental work in the past, but the truth is, at those times I had about as much anxiety about the gas as I did the dental work itself. 
I know the stereotype is that it's all fun and games and makes everything wonderful. But my gut instinct was skepticism. The added cost, which my research showed me might be as much as $90, added to my reluctance to try it.
I figured I could discuss it when I got to my appointment at 8 the next morning (today, Wednesday). I found out it would cost $100. I was talked through the process and decided to go for it. I could call it a gift to myself. Or maybe research.

Although I didn't know what to expect, I'm pretty sure it didn't go at all like I expected. And yet, without a doubt, I am glad I chose to go for the gas. 
Because .... 
As I wrote in a text when I was finished but before I drove home: "If I had not had gas I think I would be dead. Done now but may wait to drive." Yes, that was an exaggeration. I wouldn't have died. But I would not have been good. 

Among other things, it was harder for the endodontist to drill through the crown than he expected. (As he was trying, and while I was wondering if the gas was going to start working, I heard him say it took a record number of burrs/cutters to get through it.) And then at some point, I heard him say later, the crown popped off.
Afterward, he said what he found when then crown came off was very little tooth structure. After doing the root canal work, he had to build up the tooth and add metal posts to support the crown. He marveled that the dentist had been able to get the crown to stay on.
He assured me it's fixed now. But if anything goes wrong now, the tooth will need to be extracted. I asked what I can do to prevent that? "Be gentle," he said.
So, the visit to the endodontist was no laughing matter. As for the gas, I'm not sure what I think of the experience. I still felt some tension and discomfort (not relaxed!), especially in the first 30 minutes or so and a few times in between. But considering the whole process took more than 2 hours, I think I would have been in a world of hurt -- or at least major mental distress -- without it. I think I have no awareness of what was going on for about an hour. Some of the times I had awareness had the sense of observing from outside my body. Through it all I heard classic rock music, for which I was grateful. (I hope this doesn't forever taint my enjoyment of the tunes of the Eagles, Bob Seger, Rod Stewart, Fleetwood Mac and others that accompanied me on this strange journey.)  I was aware at various times of the endodontist talking about the surprises he had encountered, such as how hard it was to get through the crown, and what was revealed later when the crown popped off!! 
He seemed confident he got it all taken care of. I hope and pray and have little doubt he is correct. In other words, I believe him. 
Now I'm just dealing with the post-procedure discomfort, especially the FOUR or FIVE places where local anethesia were injected. I'm grateful for strong pain reliever and that I didn't have a job to go to. And I'm grateful that little trip is over.


  1. Yikes! That is unfortunate that you suffer such great anxiety and stress while going to the dentist. Hopefully, like you said, everything is done for now. Is it possible they can give you something to calm your nerves before you even get there, like a valium or something, or would that interfere with the gas that puts you under?

  2. Glad to know you made it through all of the dental work. It’s normal to feel anxious when going to the dentist. Have you ever considered figuring out what led to such fear? Perhaps you have a bad experience with a dentist as a child. Have you talked to your dentist about it? I’m sure it would help.

  3. I was saddened to read what you had to endure due to your root canal and incompetent dentistry. The horror of hearing that your dental work wasn't performed correctly and that you would have to undergo more work including drilling through your crown, I would have lost it. I've had the same dentist now for ten years with no problems.