Warning: If you get squeamish over dental procedures, you may not want to read this. Reader discretion is advised!
I had to get a root canal done today. I really didn't know what to expect. I've never had a cavity. I had my wizdom teeth extracted over the summer one year in college, but I didn't have to be awake for that.
But despite "root canal" being such a typical analogy of something really horrible, it wasn't so bad.
People who've been through it before told me that the hardest part was holding your mouth open for an hour, because that's about how long people said it would take. But they said that because of the novocain you don't really feel anything but some pressure. (Well, I remember waking up during the procedure of getting 4 wizdom teeth pulled and the "pressure" I felt then was very uncomfortable. So I wasn't really sure what to expect with that.) And someone else said that since they numb you so much, eating would be tough mostly because of the risk of biting your tongue since you can't feel it.
I found out that I needed to have this done about a month ago. I was in for a regular cleaning, and a few weeks before that I had some pain that felt like it was deep in the root of a tooth near the front on the right side of my face. It started on a Friday, but got a lot worse on Saturday. It was significant enough that if it hadn't gone away by Monday I was calling the dentist, but not severe enough to call him right away I guess. It went away by Monday so I waited until my next scheduled cleaning to ask about it. So they did an x-ray of the area and found an abscess, and the root canal was needed to clean out the infection and dead tissue up there to prevent further infection. (After reading more about this afterwards, I think this explains the dull headaches I've been getting on the right side of my head. And I think it explains the general feeling I've had for a few months like I'm about to get a cold, about to get a fever, about to have a sore throat, but never quite actually get full-on sick. Seems like my body may have felt that way fighting this infection.)
Back to today. The doctor explained that since the pain had gone away, that likely the nerve in that tooth was already dead. So he wasn't going to numb me. Wasn't going to numb me! He said that if we find that the nerve wasn't completely dead after all, he'd numb me immediately. That was the only time I came close to freaking out or being nervous in any way. It must have been pretty obvious by the way I reacted when I asked if he could numb me anyway just in case. He didn't try hard to talk me out of that, and said if that made me more comfortable he'd do that. He didn't think I'd need it, but he'd do it. That's not the kind of surprise I want! So I said an emphatic YES to the numbing.
I thought the needle going into my gum was going to be the most painful thing. But to my pleasant surprise, they numbed that area with a topical numbing agent (like Orajel) first. The assistant had some kind of cotton-swab looking thing that was doused in the numbing stuff, and tucked that under my upper lip while she and the doctor finished getting everything ready. It still wasn't pleasant when the injection went into the gum, it was a bit more than the "pinch" I was warned it would feel like, but I don't have a better adjective for it. The worst part of that was breifly seeing the needle that was about to be stuck in me, and I had to quickly divert my eyes then it was ok. Still, in my opinion, better than the alternative of perhaps finding out that nerve wasn't actually completely dead.
After that, just like the doctor prepared me for, my lip felt like it was absolutely huge immediately. It wasn't, but it felt like it. Then I felt like I had something fuzzy (a piece of fabric, or small string, or large piece of dust) go up my nose. I decided before they started was a better time to itch my nose. Then they told me that if my nose felt stuffed up it was an effect of the numbing. I said no, fuzzy thing. They said that was still probably part of the numbing.
I said OK and stopped scratching. He said if I felt anything, to indicate that to him using my left hand. Left hand, armed and ready. And we got started.
After that, the next thing to get over was the sound. But I was quickly distracted from that by floating particles in the air, like sawdust but coming off of my tooth, but finer than sawdust. It smelled somewhat like sawdust but maybe with something more medical-smelling mixed in, like something they'd use to clean off your skin before sticking it with a needle to draw blood. The smell wasn't so bad once I accepted that it was there and it was normal, but there were enough dust particles that I didn't want to breathe it in. So I held my breath and tried to only take short breath in between when he took a break and the dust would settle some.
And I didn't want to swallow after that. So saliva built up in my mouth. I had one opportunity to spit, only b/c I asked.
Next he used maybe 5" x 5" latex sheet to isolate the tooth and catch the liquid they used to rinse out the canal, and the assistant could suction that off the sheet instead of it getting into my mouth. Even then, I still didn't want to swallow. Part of that was b/c I still wasn't sure there weren't particles from the drilling in my mouth, but mostly because I didn't want my tongue or head to move while swallowing in any way that would disrupt the work that was going on. So the saliva collecting in my mouth was not very pleasant.
If I were clostrophobic at all, I might have not liked how close the latex thing was to my nose. It felt like it was covering my nose and I wasn't going to be able to breathe. Especially if the doctor's hand got near my nose too. But when I started feeling that way, I just took mental note at the fact that I wasn't really having any trouble breathing at all. It must have been another nose-related side effect of the numbing.
Then the pressure part. To me that didn't feel a whole lot different from when the dentist prods hard down into your back teeth to check for cavities. Only difference was that I could tell it was moving my whole head when he did it, not just my jaw. Which brought me to the odd realization of just how far up into my tooth he was probably prodding. Yet another thing that, once I mentally accepted that's what was happening, it was ok. Still weird, but ok. This was the point where I probably would have really had to calm myself down a lot more if I hadn't talked him into numbing me first!
After that was just the sound of lots of scraping. Not like fingernails on a chalkboard. Maybe more like rubbing two rocks together, except that the sound was coming from inside my mouth not from across the room. But picturing it, and accepting the idea of what was going on, as weird as it was, made it better.
But that part took a long time. Maybe longer than typically because the doctor said that there was some material that had calcified up there (confirming that it was more likely something caused from trauma a long time ago, rather than more recently). But he had to get through that material as well, I guess. He must have had a tough time working through it and needed lots of leverage because once I had to signal him with my left hand b/c my lower lip was pinched between my lower teeth and his hand. (surprisingly he understood me when I said "you're pinching my lower lip" even with all the stuff and saliva build up in my mouth.) No big deal if he needed to use my lower teeth as leverage to do what he needed to do but not the lip! :) So I had to keep paying attention, keep my mouth open wide enough, and adjusting my lower lip so it wouldn't get in the way again.
I took the chance to close my mouth and relax my jaw whenever I could, while the dentist was switching instruments or what not, since everyone said to expect my jaw to be sore from holding it open for the lenght of the procedure. I think that helped.
Overall the procedure was done in less than an hour. He did not permanently fill the canal yet though. He wants me to keep taking the antibiotics and come back in 2 weeks for another x-ray to make sure the abscess is gone and cleaned out. In case not, the canal is still open for access if there's more stuff to drain. If it's all good, then he'll fill it then. For now he said he put some kind of cotton up there, and plugged it with some kind of putty.
They gave me some Ibuprofen, and I was on my way.
James was nice enough to take me, since I wasn't sure how I'd feel. I felt pretty good, with just a few weird things from the numbness. I felt like my lip was huge (it wasn't.) I felt like I was smiling with only half of my face (I wasn't.) I felt like I had boogers in my right nostril preventing me from breathing (I didn't.) And even though I could feel my tongue pretty well, I still didn't feel like I'd be very graceful if I tried to eat or drink anything right then. But we stopped at the grocery store to see what might seem good to make for dinner.
I felt a little bit nauseous at the grocery store. Not sure why, or if it was related to the dental procedure. But the nausea was short-lived. I felt like I had a bit of a headache when I got back to James' house, and took another Ibuprofen and watched TV for about an hour. Felt pretty good after that, and decided to get some more work done since I had to leave work early today for the root canal.
It's about 5 hours later now and I'm getting hungry. I have complete feeling back in my lip. Still not in a lot of pain. I feel a dull ache, at most, in my jaw which kind of feels like the onset of a headache. The tooth is a little sensitive because of all the josling around of that particular tooth (which the doctor warned me about). And I have a small cut on my lower lip from the aforementioned accidental lower lip pinching during the procedure. But that's it.
I'm still thinking it might not be so good tomorrow. I sometimes tend to feel worse the 2nd day after stuff than the 1st day. I feel more sore the 2nd day after working out or playing sports, not the next day. I felt worse the 2nd day after my wizdom tooth procedure than I did the day after when I was supposed to feel so bad. So we'll see what tomorrow brings. :)