Many times people who have what is a dull ache or occasional twinge in their tooth will take a few Advil and try to tough it out with the hopes that whatever it is will go away. Sometimes it does, most times it doesn’t. Now despite what some people may think, I do not have my head in the clouds believing that people love having dental treatment (though I do indulge in the belief that my patients enjoy seeing me). So, I do understand the phenomenon of watchful waiting (praying) for the dental dilemma to spontaneously disappear.
I appreciate and know full well the worry and anxiety that anticipated dental treatment can sometimes evoke and if I do say so myself, am very good at assuaging the apprehensive to the point where I have most smiling by the time they leave the office. (OK, maybe they’re smiling because they are actually leaving, but think what you will; a little “magic” has taken place.)
A Root Canal: Cause for Fear?
So dentistry or the thought thereof can precipitate anxiety. But the most feared dental treatment is A ROOT CANAL. “Root Canal” – Just hearing these words sends chills down the spine like a horror movie. Thanks to movies and pop culture the dread and pain of root canal has been perpetuated in our social consciousness. Think of The Marathon Man, The Little Shop of Horrors even President Obama’s reference to the bank bailouts “as popular as a root canal”. Not to mention a plethora of movie reviews with a root canal reference including Andrew Sullivan of The Daily Beast opining on Sarah Palin’s documentary as “A root canal of a movie.” Or James Frey author of Oprah’s misguided endorsement “A Million Little Pieces” in which James “goes through a series of painful root canals…” We know that any popular reference/comparison to a root canal is a condemnation and certainly something to be avoided.
Root Canal Pain
But truth be told, root canal doesn’t cause pain, a root canal relieves or prevents pain. And despite this procedure’s negative reputation, THERE IS NO REASON TO BE AFRAID. Advances in modern dentistry have rendered root canal pain free – virtually. (I always wondered what ”virtually” means in this context. Well, it means it doesn’t hurt.) In my 30 years of practice, having performed innumerable root canal treatments, the people most fearful even terrified at the thought of having root canal, ARE PEOPLE WHO HAVE NEVER HAD ROOT CANAL.
Erica, a marathon runner with endorphins streaming through her body, and Thomas, a West Point graduate and army veteran, lost all facial color at the news of their need for root canal. Both of them model patients have personally experienced extensive dental care far more complicated than root canal were unnerved (pun intended). Treating a first-timer to root canal can be very rewarding (not $ the way you’re thinking). Because the negative hype is so intense, when completed I come away the hero. “That’s it?” is the most common remark (aside from the accolades of my talent and skill). For the record…I have personally had 6 teeth treated with root canal therapy.
Some people wrongly belief that root canal involves removing a tooth’s roots (actually that would be an extraction-no roots, no tooth.) A Root canal, also called endodontic therapy, treats the tissue known as the dental pulp that is inside the root while keeping the root itself intact and thus saving the tooth. Think of the procedure akin to treating a cavity whereby the decay is cleaned out and a filling is placed in the tooth. Root canal involves cleaning-out the irritated pulp (nerve) in the root and then filling or sealing the remaining structure.
Not All Tooth Pain Requires Root Canal Treatment
In fact, most of the time, sensitive teeth respond to very simple treatment (dental cleaning, fluoride treatment, filling…) But, if you have a bothersome tooth that is left untreated, root canal may become necessary. DO NOT BE AFRAID. ROOT CANAL IS PAINLESS and you can go about your business right after treatment. If you are apprehensive, let your dentist know. Most of the time, the anticipation is worse than the actual treatment.
For the curious: Teeth have three layers: enamel, dentin and pulp. Enamel is the hard outer surface that dazzles when you smile. Tooth enamel is the hardest substance in the body with a 98% mineral content. Bone has about 70%. Because of its hardness, enamel protects the more sensitive dentin and the extremely sensitive pulp which contains the nerve. Dental pulp functions in the formation of teeth as they are developing and erupting. The pulp also helps to hydrate the actual tooth structure. But the most recognized portion of the pulp is the tiny nerves whose only function is to perceive pain. If the nerves in the pulp are stimulated by anything (hot, cold, sweets), you will feel pain.
Dr. Michael Sinkin is a general dentist in New York City. He loves being a dentist and is known throughout the city for taking wonderful care of his patients and for his wicked sense of humor. For more about Dr. Sinkin, click here. Thank You!