"What's nine letters for 'painful dental procedure'?"

January 14, 2003

A while ago I noticed I had a cavity in one of my back teeth. Being self-employed and uninsured, I stepped up the job hunt and hoped it wouldn't get much worse.

It got worse, as in I got a toothache that required taking about five Advils a day. I went in today and the dentist was amazed at how much tooth was gone. He tried to just carve out the decaying parts and put in a filling, but he broke through into where the nerve goes. That hurt just a little bit.

At that point, there are two options. The tooth can either be removed, which causes its own problems -- the opposing tooth can grow to fill in the newly-created gap and later fall out -- or you can have the procedure that is the answer to the crossword-esque title: Root canal.

Basically, they dig down into the roots of the tooth and dig out the nerves (the rearmost molars have three to contend with) and the associated blood vessels. Needless to say this involves lots of novocaine. With the only source of sensation gone, the dentist can then remove what's left of the decay.

Now here's the fun part. I get to go back next week to finish the procedure. Right now there's a temorary filling that seems to be made of the cement orthodontists use to hold braces on. On the 17th I get a pair of rubbery placeholders put into the root canals themselves and a real filling put in.

In theory that could be the end of it. But without a blood supply, what's left of the tooth is dead. Over time it'll become brittle and fall apart. That would be bad because then I'd wind up with the same problem as if I'd had the thing pulled in the first place. So in a couple months I can go in and get the thing capped.

They'll drive a couple screws into the root canals to anchor the cap to the tooth, then install the cap itself to absorb the pressure (700 psi for a molar) of chewing to ensure that I continue to have a toothlike object in that part of my mouth.

At the moment (six hours removed) the novocaine's worn off and I'm on a single Advil. Aside from my jaw being a little sore from being held open for long periods of time I feel OK. The real question will be how the remaining nerves in my lower jaw react to their friend being severed and removed. But I've got me a bottle of Vicodin here, so don't worry about it too much :)

January 10, 2003January 15, 2003