Jewish World Review June 29, 2001 / 8 Tamuz, 5761

Greg Crosby

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Consumer Reports

Swish this around in your mouth and spit -- IF you haven’t had root canal work done lately, it might surprise you to learn that with modern dentistry making the enormous strides that it has, getting one of your teeth drilled down through the center and deep into the nerve is STILL one of the experiences of life best wished on your worst enemy. All I can say is, thank heavens for anesthesia, for without it I’m sure I would have killed not only the dentist, but the dental assistant, the receptionist, all other patients in the waiting room, and the parking lot attendant. Even with the double dosage of needles that he gave me, I still felt some pain.

The sequence of events leading up to this procedure usually goes something like this: First you experience a bit of sensitivity in the general area. “Nothing to be concerned about,” you tell yourself. “I’ll just chew on the other side.” Time goes by, and the slight sensitivity has now increased to the point where you find yourself buying one of those “sensitivity toothpastes.” Might as well get one with the “whitening formula,” while you’re at it.

Since the sensitivity has not gone away, you wonder just what it is that you’re doing wrong when you eat. “Must be eating foods that are just too darn hot,” you think, so you switch to cold but that doesn’t help either. You continue to play the hot and cold food game, hoping, like Goldilocks, that you will at last find the temperature that is “just right.”

Meanwhile, the word “sensitivity” doesn’t quite cover the level of discomfort that you are now experiencing. “Ache” seems to be the more appropriate word. Still you continue chewing on the other side and smearing sensitivity toothpaste on the affected area.

Soon you graduate to taking Advil several times a day. One pill at first, then two, then three at a time. It helps for awhile. Once the ache has gotten to the pain stage and you start regretting meal times it finally dawns on you that you might have to visit your dentist. Of course, this realization always occurs late on a Friday evening, necessitating a week-end wait. You’re now using so much Sensodine that people think you’ve gone mad and are frothing at the mouth. The pain has gotten to the point that you just don’t give a hang WHAT people think.

Somehow you make it to Monday morning and call the dentist. They are able to “squeeze you in.” Relief is on it’s way -- you think. You get to the dentist’s office and after he examines the affected area he tells you, with a straight face, that you have a problem in one of your teeth. No kidding! You’d like to give HIM a problem with ALL of his teeth, but you contain yourself.

In my case, the top molar, the one with the crown, was infected and needed root canal work. These are, of course, my words -- the dentist said basically the same thing, only in unintelligible terms he learned in dental school. Dentists, like doctors, use diagnostic terminology for two reasons: to impress you and to justify charging a fortune of money for the procedure.

The other bit of good news I received from my dentist, was the fact that this procedure must be performed by another dentist, a specialist. A phone call was made to my dentist’s first choice of specialist. He was all booked up. Second choice -- all booked up. After several more attempts they were finally able to book me with someone, clearly at the bottom of the list, who agreed to see me on the following day. “Here’s a prescription for some antibiotics and a pain medication, if you need it,” I was told. (IF I need it?) “Have a good night.”

And I did. Thanks to the Vicodin. The next day I arrived at the office of the endodontic specialist (that title alone should have been a tip-off that this was going to cost me a bloody fortune). After a short wait I was ushered into the torture chamber and was told to lie down on the Frankenstein chair. The root-canal dentist came in and after a short exam and some Q and A, he explained what it was he was going to do (a root canal), how he was going to do it (drilling through the crown), how long it would take to do it (about 30 minutes), and how much it would cost me ($950.00).

I didn’t question any of this because I just wanted him to make the pain go away. He could have said it would cost me $950,000 and I would have undoubtedly still nodded my head in that nonchalant fashion -- just make the pain go away, okay? I’ll pay whatever you ask!

I didn’t question the money, so I certainly didn’t question how the work was to be done. But I really don’t get why they have to drill through your cap to do a root canal. Why not just REMOVE the cap and then work on the infected tooth? Then after the work is done, simply replace the cap. That makes more make sense to me than drilling a hole through a perfectly good dental crown and having to fill it afterward. That’s like a doctor performing foot surgery through your shoes. Or a brain surgeon operating through your hat.

In any case, it’s over. Most of it, anyway. I have to go back in a couple of days so he can fill the hole he drilled with permanent stuff -- he has temporary stuff in there now. Why didn’t he just put in the permanent stuff in the first place? If I knew the answer to that, I would be making $950 for thirty minutes of work, too.

JWR contributor Greg Crosby, former creative head for Walt Disney publications, has written thousands of comics, hundreds of children's books, dozens of essays, and a letter to his congressman. You may contact him by clicking here.

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© 2001 Greg Crosby