Confessions of a Girl Who Had a Root Canal.
When I was 12 years old, I was in a bicycle accident. One summer afternoon, I decided to bike from my hometown to the next town over. In front of the high school, I decided to get out of the bike lane and go onto the side walk. I had this odd idea that if you were on the street and you want to get up onto the sidewalk, you should go up onto the sidewalk at an angle.
This is not how you do it.
The next thing I knew, I was flying over my handle bars and landing on the side walk with my bike crashing down on me. Some kind strangers stopped and helped me, called my parents and waited for my dad to come pick me up. In addition to bumps and bruises, and a line of bike chain cuts running down the length of my calf, my braces were a mangled mess and my teeth felt a bit loose, especially my front left tooth.
My mom took me to the orthodontist to get my mouth examined. My orthodontist proclaimed that my braces had kept my teeth from decorating the side walk, but that the impact could have done damage to the my front left tooth. He said that it was too early to tell whether or not I had done any serious damage to it, but he said that I would know if my tooth got darker. My dentist later confirmed this diagnosis.
The unfortunate part of this is that I did not realize what a “dark tooth” actually meant. I thought it meant, like, gray. Or black. You know, something really disgusting and gross like you’d see in a horror movie like 30 Days of Night.
That didn’t happen.
Over the years, my dad occasionally remarked that this one tooth looked darker than the others. I thought my teeth were just yellow. I’ve never had sparkling, shiny white teeth. I didn’t realize that this was the unnatural darkening that my orthodontist was talking about. But all throughout high school, my dentist never mentioned anything about needing my tooth looked at again.
Fast forward to present day. After two appointments with Dr. “You Might Have Periodontal Disease” I decided to seek out a second opinion. My new doctor, Dr. L, examined my teeth and said “No, your teeth aren’t moving” and “No, you don’t have periodontal disease.”
But he did ask, “Did you know that one of your teeth is dark than the others?”
“Um, yeah, it’s been that way for awhile,” I said. “I thought it was just stained or something.”
“Usually that happens when there’s been some kind of trauma to the tooth,” Dr. L said.
“I was in a bicycle accident when I was 12 years old,” I explained. Dr. L said that he thought the discoloration was from the trauma, and that no amount of external bleaching would really do much good.
Here’s the short version of a long story:
There are nerves that run from your gums and into your teeth. That’s how you can feel hot and cold on them. When my tooth was impacted in the accident, the nerves in my front left tooth died a tragic and untimely death. The only problem is that I didn’t know it at the time. After many years, the nerve endings receded out of the tooth and into the gum. If you look at X-rays of a normal, healthy tooth, you’ll see a long cavern running the length of your tooth. That’s where the nerves live. Because my nerves had essentially “left the building” that cavern had calcified, meaning it was hardened and solid. This created a barrier to the very end of my tooth, by the gum, where the rest of the dead nerves were. On top of that, the impact also caused some bleeding inside my tooth, which is where the dark color comes from. The combination of dead nerves and blood means that my tooth is at an increased risk for an infection. Infected tooth? No, thank you! The only remedy is to have the dreaded root canal.
But that’s not all.
When I went to meet with the oral surgeon who does the majority of root canals at my dentist’s office, he explained that because my tooth had calcified, it would take longer to get to my nerves. He told me that he wasn’t even sure he could finish the root canal because of how far back they were. And if he was able to do the whole procedure, it could take much longer than usual.
Up to two hours longer than usual.
Yesterday was doomsday. Preparations included bring my fully charged iPhone and compulsively checking my blood sugar to make sure I wasn’t swinging down low. Since the procedure was taking place in my mouth, I didn’t want to take any chances with hypoglycemia. By the time I went in to see the doctor, my blood sugar was cresting a little over 300 mg/dl, so I took a smidge of insulin (just a unit) and by the time I was finished two and a half hours later, I was just under 200 mg/dl.
Having a root canal is not actually that painful when it comes to your teeth. They numbed the heck out of it and there wasn’t much I could feel. The part that hurt the worst was when they jabbed with gum with the Novocaine. Needles are acquaintances of mine but still – ouch! My upper lip felt swollen, and my cheek had that weird tingly sensation from being completely numb. The part that hurt the most? My jaw! Holding my mouth open (with the assistance of a bite guard) for over two hours meant that I had a pretty bad headache when it as over. They also had to use a sheet of latex of my mouth to keep my front teeth isolated, but have you tried breathing with latex covering your mouth and nose? Not easy.
I’ll skip the part about the smell of the drilling.
When all was said and done, the root canal really didn’t hurt. My oral surgeon wrote me a prescription for pain killers, which we filled immediately afterward but I never ended up taking any of them because my mouth simply didn’t hurt.
As far as the darkness in my tooth, it’s still there. My tooth was only temporarily sealed, because I return on Wednesday for part two of my root canal saga which involves my dentist filling my tooth with an internal bleach to help get my tooth to match the rest of my teeth. Once that procedure is finished, I can then go through the process of externally bleaching my teeth in preparation for my wedding.
Moral of the story? If one tooth is darker then the rest, do not wait ten years to get it looked at, OK?