I’m sure that there is a universal law that states that the pain you are about to feel at the dentist’s office is in direct proportion to exactly the opposite of how much he says that you won’t feel a thing. I wish that I would heed this wisdom more often.
If you have ever had a bad experience at the dentist or have sensitive teeth in any way, you are best advised to skip this post, or at the very least, go grab your old sports mouth guard so that you don’t grind your own teeth as you wince along with the episode.
I should have known from the beginning that this was coming. Sometimes, no matter how good or competent the dentist, the forces of nature have already stacked the cards against you. When he first began working on the tooth, after novacaining me up and the drill bit wouldn’t work properly (to his credit, he stopped and asked me to come back the next week instead of trying to finish), I should have bowed to those forces and left the tooth to another day and another dentist.
Now I sat in the chair already knowing what the problem was, but he wanted to take a look to see if he could do anything since his repair had failed a couple days before. I knew I had cracked my tooth (even though the crack didn’t want to show up on the x-rays) because of the familiar pain that came each time hot and cold water hit it and now, even when cool air hit the tooth. The dentist wasn’t convinced since his x-ray told him otherwise so he reached for the air gun.
“This shouldn’t hurt,” he assured me still believing the film in front of him over what I was saying. Then before I had a chance to protest. the shot of air hit the tooth and the exposed nerve through the crack that shouldn’t have been there and set off the sparkler inside my brain.
My nails clawing into his dentist’s chair and tears welling in my tightly shut eyes, along with the gargoyle expression that covered my face, convinced him that I was correct and the film was wrong. I did have a cracked tooth and I needed a root canal.
He explained that the root canal would be difficult, but he could do it the next day if I wanted. The problem was that I would be flying back home the day after not giving him time to make the crown the tooth would need after the root canal. I declined and said I’d take my chanced when I got back to the US or made a special trip to Japan (where I have dental insurance).
I should have left the chair right then and there, but the dentist thought that he could help. A trip to Japan would be a month off and he thought he could temporarily seal the crack so that it wasn’t quite so painful when water and air hit it. I gave him a questioning look that he answered before a word could come out of my mouth.
“There won’t be any pain,” he assured me.
I let out a heavy sigh and tilted my head with a half smile on my face the clearly indicated that I didn’t believe him.
“No really, there will be no pain,” he said with complete confidence. “I won’t use a drill and there is no need for novocaine. All I will be doing is placing sealant over the crack.” He then tapped the tooth and said’ “See, no pain. Just like that.”
Disregarding the universal law stated in the first sentence, I reluctantly agreed for him to go ahead and try.
My hands were once again threatening to tear of the rests on the dentist’s chair as he began. He told me to relax and that everything would be fine as he continued placing the sealant over the crack. The pain that I thought I’d feel instantly didn’t come and I just began to loosen my grip when it happened. You know those cartoons where a character puts their finger into a live electrical outlet and they begin flashing with their skeleton flashing every second as every hair on their body juts out as far as possible? That was exactly what I felt when the sealant seeped through the crack and hit the nerve.
Of course at this point it was too late to stop so the dentist started using the blue light thingy to make the sealant harden which basically made the above scenario happen again only with the pain 100 times worse. The assistant was literally having trouble keeping me in place so that they could get the sealant solidified as I tried to escape by holding the chair so tightly that I could somehow push my way right through the bottom of it. I wasn’t crying, yet tears were pouring out my eyes and my legs were a stiff as four by fours. When the blue light thingy beeped saying it was done, the dentist took it out in a flash asking me if I was all right. “Don’t worry, we are finished.”
It took another 30 seconds for the pain to recede and I could finally breath a sigh of relief that it was over. I was about ready to get up when the dentist said, “OK, now suck in real hard while smiling to see if it worked.”
I looked at him like he was crazy.
“Or we can use the air gun to test,” he said reaching for the tool.
“I’ll do it, I’ll do it,” I said quickly before he could get the air gun into my mouth.
It took me a good five minutes to get up the courage to do the air test and while it didn’t eliminate the pain, it did seem to dampen it a bit. The dentist was happy that it seemed to have worked at least to some degree and apologized saying that he didn’t think the crack was large enough to let the sealant seep through and reach the nerve.
Now after all that, I still get to look forward to a root canal…
Photo courtesy of Ammar Abd Rabbo