Okay – who’s had a root canal?
Because back in July, I heard those two words uttered together in the context of MY MOUTH for the first time and I pretty much had a heart attack.
Which, newsflash: IS WAY WORSE THAN HAVING A ROOT CANAL!
Since then, I’ve had a nearly singular focus on how to AVOID having the root canal done. And as of today, it may have actually paid off.
Have I intrigued those of you who’ve been through this? Are you running your tongue over your crown right now, wondering whether you made the right decision? Well, read on…
But first, if you aren’t familiar with the root canal procedure, it might help to know that, according to Web MD, at least…
“A root canal procedure is performed when the nerve of the tooth becomes infected or the pulp becomes damaged. During a root canal procedure, the nerve and pulp are removed, and the inside of the tooth is cleaned and sealed.”
That “sealing” happens with a crown. Not surprisingly, root canals do not have a reputation of being fun. Or cheap.
Now – here goes…
MAY 1ST, 2014: IT BEGINS
Six-month checkup day!
I’m the kind of person who loves going to the dentist. It’s a chance to get CLEAN, and there’s nothing I love more than cleanliness! I never had any teeth problems growing up – never had a cavity until I was almost 30 years old, never had braces… The dentist is never scary for me; I usually get compliments on my dental hygiene so – yay! Type-A Lisa woke up on May 1st this year thinking she was on her way to another A+ in tooth-brushing class.
Of course, I gave my pearly whites a good scrub before leaving that morning! But upon flossing… Ay yi yi.
The floss got totally STUCK between my upper back molars, on my left side. I yanked and yanked and eventually, a piece of old filling flew out of my mouth.
Yes – I actually flossed one of my fillings out while on the way to my six-month checkup. Shockingly convenient, I know.
Everything at the cleaning then went as-expected: teeth looked great, no cavities, but… oops! “You’ve got a filling coming loose. We better redo that.” Duh.
Given I was on my way to Sicily later that week, the dentist and I agreed this was a non-emergency and could wait until I got back. I set an appointment for June 4th and basically forgot about it, enjoying my sunny vacation and basking in the comfort of my dental superiority (my perceived superiority, at least).
JUNE 4TH, 2014: FILL ‘ER UP
I returned for my filling totally unconcerned. I actually REALLY like my dentist – he’s a peach, as is his receptionist/wife who always takes excellent care of me and offers me sparkling water AND the latest People magazine as soon as I step through the door. The filling was unexceptional and I left feeling confident and hydrated, sipping the remainder of my San Pellegrino as I sauntered into my office on a sunny summer day.
SOME TIME IN LATE JUNE:
PAIN! PAIN! PAIN IN MY TOOTH! Any time anything not a perfectly pleasant lukewarm temperature touched it. Seriously. Sensitive didn’t even describe it. My morning office banana sent me into a tizzy in front of colleagues. WTF? But unless something cold was in my mouth, everything seemed otherwise normal. I started researching cold-sensitivity in teeth and slyly steering bar conversations with questions like, “Hey, so, do you guys ever have problems chewing fruit that’s been in your fridge?” Eventually, befuddled, I bought some Sensodyne.
JULY 25TH, 2014: GIVING IN
The Sensodyne was useless.
In desperation, I tried telling myself it was my sinuses… A possible ear infection… Brushing too hard… A toothpaste allergy… But as I neared the one-month-of-misery mark, I decided to relent. Something was seriously effed up with my tooth – or teeth? I wasn’t even sure where the sensitivity was coming from any more; only that it totally sucked ass.
While on the road to Reno from Fresno, unable to drink my gas station iced tea, I called the dentist and demanded to be seen. I couldn’t take it any more. Iced tea should not cause pain. Bananas should not cause pain. BANANAS ARE WHAT YOU FEED SICK LITTLE KIDS, FOR CRYING OUT LOUD.
JULY 29TH, 2014: THE RETURN
I was still feeling super positive about the dentist when I returned for my third visit in less than three months. I got another San Pellegrino and another People. I got another comprehensive exam. I didn’t have to pay for anything. But I didn’t get an answer about my tooth.
Instead, the dentist basically told me my tooth was fine, but it might not be fine. I needed to see…
Duh duh DAH!!!
Now, I didn’t really know what an endodontist was then, but I NOW know that an endodontist is basically a dentist who does nothing but root canals. And that right there is pretty whack. Like – there’s a WHOLE PROFESSION devoted just to this ONE PROCEDURE in this ONE tiny little piece of your body? These guys figured out a pretty sweet deal for themselves.
But, back on July 29th, I didn’t even know that endontist signaled root canal. I was oblivious. My ears perked up only when the sweet wife/receptionist told me, as I was checking out, that she was “sending my x-rays on to the endontist for the root canal exam.”
AUGUST 5TH, 2014: “THE ROOT CANAL EXAM”
Like my dentist, the endodontist I was referred to was a nice enough guy.
Who really didn’t give me a straight answer about my tooth.
He took some more x-rays, tested the entire left side of my mouth for cold sensitivity, and then proceeded to tell me that I probably needed a root canal. That I could continue to “nurse it along for a while” (okaaayyy…) and it might go away still (uh, really?), but given MY AGE (f#@% you!), and how long the sensitivity had now been present since my filling had been redone, if it was his tooth, he’d get the root canal.
Well, DUH. You’re a guy who does NOTHING BUT ROOT CANALS for a living.
I asked him if this was the new filling’s fault. If I hadn’t had the old one replaced, or if it had been redone differently or better, might this not have happened? But he assured me it was all unavoidable. That the old filling was cracked to begin with – that’s how I managed to pull it out. That means air and crap was getting under there and causing the root to become infected or something and this had been inevitable for a while now.
On my way out, the receptionist handed me a nifty insurance estimate showing me that the root canal portion of the procedure would only cost me $180 out of pocket. I decided to make an appointment for one month later, to “nurse it along” and do a little research.
Because something seemed fishy. Not the least of which was the fact that I later found out the crown portion of the procedure would come later, and cost me another $1500 out of pocket.
Really? It was inevitable? And really – there’s NOTHING else you can do for a tooth that had otherwise felt fine a couple months prior? If it’s infected, you can’t heal it? REALLY? Now the tooth had to essentially be killed and the dead shell of it would be left in my mouth with another hunk of something sitting on top (the crown) and wouldn’t it be so cool if THAT eventually cracked and needed to be redone and the whole cycle started over again? For $1500 out of pocket?
No… I kept muttering in my head. I wanted my tooth to stay in my mouth, with nerves intact. A complete, alive little tooth.
AUGUST 9TH: DR. DEMRAY BRINGS THE LIGHT
While home in Detroit for Sarah’s graduation party, I decided to hit up our awesome family friend and respected dentist, Dr. William Demray, for a second opinion about my tooth (In fact, I decided to hit him up WHILE at the party; my tooth was weighing on me so much, it was more important than open bar).
And he was skeptical.
He also elucidated Trent and I about composite fillings (aka, the white ones that everybody wants now because they look like real teeth) – the perils and pitfalls and how they need to be done precisely correct. If not, they can lead to a whole lotta problems, and often, the easy solve in such a situation is a root canal. Go figure!
I didn’t have to say a word and Dr. Demray knew everything about my tooth: “Back molar, composite filling, on the side, deep… Am I right?”
I started to feel confident that my tooth was a case of a composite filling gone awry.
THE EVIDENCE WAS SCREAMING AT ME (well, not literally – Dr. Demray is a very calm, cool guy…)
But I’m someone who knows my body well. I wouldn’t be in Year 8 relapse-free from Multiple Sclerosis if I didn’t take a methodical, research-driven, self-aware approach to everything having to do with MY BODY. I know me better than the endodontist, or the dentist, or ANYONE ON EARTH FOR THAT MATTER.
And goddammit, I didn’t need a root canal.
AUGUST 11TH: FIRST PULL
I got back from Detroit and immediately emailed Dr. Demray my x-ray from the endontist’s office for his opinion.
And then I went to the store, picked up some coconut oil, and started oil pulling. And I’ve done it every day since then.
Intrigued by the practice, I decided it was time to start some alternative therapies while I continued my research. They have never failed me when applied thoughtfully; my favorite example is of course my decision to give up red meat, poultry, dairy, and eggs to combat MS.
So I oil-pulled away, following the traditional Ayurvedic guidelines as closely as I could. Within a week the sensitivity waned to the point that it wasn’t really bothersome – only when I ate or drank something truly COLD.
But it didn’t disappear. And around that time, I heard back from Dr. Demray.
He said he would get the root canal. My new filling was deep – close to the root, not leaving a lot of tooth left for a pass at another new, proper filling.
But I still didn’t do it.
I couldn’t. I just wasn’t convinced that a tooth that now wasn’t causing me pain 95% of the time was worth destroying.
I kept reading about root canals, and let me tell you – there is a lot of scary stuff out there. Stuff like this.
I don’t buy into sensationalism when it comes to my medical choices, though. So I made sure to also read stuff like this.
But I also don’t buy into stuff published by the guys who do NOTHING BUT THAT ONE THING THEY’RE TRYING TO SELL YOU.
So still, my tooth stayed. I debated. I drank my iced tea on my right side and I oil pulled every morning and I researched every night.
And I became more and more intrigued by the idea of the “biological dentist” (which, if you’re not clicking, is a dentist “committed to caring for the whole person – body, mind, spirit and mouth”)… Who are these mysterious, holistic fellows, who consider themselves both dentists and doctors? Who believe in healing the tooth first, rather than destroying it?
And most importantly – could I find one?
Well, hells yeah. I live in the East Bay. We have BERKELEY. If it’s radical, holistic, alternative – that’s the place to find it.
SEPTEMBER 22ND: THE NEW BEGINNING
This morning, I went to see my new biological dentist. I had to do a lot of research to find what I believed to be the very best biological dentist among a decent-sized crop in the vast holistic sea that is Berkeley (and yes, he is also a DDS). And I waited a month to see him, but it was worth it.
For starters, no one has been so hard on my teeth in years. Which is a good thing, in my opinion. I’m tired of getting A+s. I want to get A++s. This guy singled out two teeth in my mouth and said, “You can floss better between these two, you see?”
But more interesting than that, he said…
No root canal.
He confirmed everything Dr. Demray told me about composite fillings, in a faint but charming Eastern European accent. The composite filling, he insisted, was not flawless and as such the cavity was present beneath it again, causing me pain. It had to be flawless, but too few dentists understood the importance of this. Unlike what Dr. Demray was able to see, though, he did a complete exam, and took a full set of all x-rays, including a panoramic of my head, and concluded there was enough tooth to redo the filling.
“Yes of course. We redo the filling the way it should be done. Only then does the pain go away. But root canal, that is not for this tooth yet. That is for when the pain keeps you up at night.”
And then he poked into my two other fillings – both at least eight years old now – and said they needed to be redone, as well. Basically, think of it like preventative maintenance on a car. None of them were probably flawless to begin with, and now they all had cracks/”shrinkage” in them – he was able to dig the little dentist-pokey thing under the edges of ALL of them (a very unnerving thing to watch, but he made sure I did). I could wait until I yanked them out, too, or I could replace them now, the way they needed to be replaced, and they would last longer (but still, not necessarily forever).
One way or another, they were on their way out.
And then he pointed to the small cavity my dentist had been merely “watching” for a year plus.
“Nonsense. We treat that, too.”
And then he did a sensitivity test on all my teeth with fillings. And they ALL failed. Painfully.
So, on November 18th (because, yes, that’s how long it takes to get an appointment with the best biological dentist in Berkeley, California), I’m on my way back to have the two fillings on the left side redone. It will take until January 5th before I’ll get another hour with him to get in for the other side of my mouth.
Four new fillings, out of network, still just one quarter of the price of the single root canal and crown.
Only then can I truly finish this story, but so far, I’m intrigued and happy with how this is playing out.
I’m sharing the whole long story because not only do I love a good research tale, but I also…
- Love triumphing, which I might just be on my way to doing (duh)
- Love sharing useful alternative therapy info with the world, in case some other root-canal-adverse soul is out there thinking their tooth might just be worth saving
If that person is you, well… Congratulations. You now have reason to believe, at least.