It began a little over a week ago with an on-again-off-again niggling pain in the tooth nearest the gap created when I had my wisdom tooth pulled in October. I thought nothing of it—those type of small discomforts come and go. But this one just came. Each day it got a little worse until it got to the point where I decided to see a dentist.
I like the dentist I’ve used since we moved to Colorado, but he isn’t in my insurance network. I talked with coworkers and they recommended another dentist.
On Thursday, February 8, I got on the website and asked for an appointment. I heard nothing from them that day. On Friday, I called. I got a message informing me that the office was closed. It turns out they are only open Monday-Thursday. By this time, it was too late in the week to call my old dentist. Besides, I was beginning to suspect an impacted tooth because the pain was only getting worse, and I didn’t want to have to pay for that out of network. I was facing a weekend with a sore tooth.
Saturday wasn’t terrible. The pain came and went in the morning. By evening, it had settled in. Sunday wasn’t fun. We had tickets for the Ice Castles in Dillon that evening. I would have stayed home otherwise. By afternoon, I was popping aspirin every four hours, which barely kept the pain at tolerable levels.
By Monday, it was imperative that I find help. I called the dentist again and finally got hold of a real person. She said she had seen my email from the Thursday before and was just about to call. Maybe it’s even true. She said she could get me in on Tuesday to deal with the pain and on Wednesday for a cleaning. I told her Tuesday for sure, so we set up an appointment for 8:00 on Tuesday, the 13th.
The pain in the tooth was radiating up into my temple and giving me headaches, so I spent Monday evening watching a movie and trying not to move more than necessary. On Tuesday morning, my wife dropped me off at 7:30 at a coffee shop near the dentist’s office. I hung out there until 8:00 and then walked over. The receptionist, who admitted that she was the one who had talked to me on Monday, told me she had me down for Thursday. This made me feel pretty stupid, but then I got to thinking—she’d said sore tooth one day and cleaning the next, and the office is closed on Fridays, so she couldn’t have been referring to Thursday …
Anyway, she said she could fit me in. The office is fancy. There’s a waterfall taking up one room of the reception area. I was ushered into an office and asked to sign a form that stated, in essence, that they only do top-end, high-tech, leading-edge treatment, so if I’m looking for inexpensive, I’m in the wrong place. I found out a few minutes later that the dentist chair was also a massage chair.
The assistant took X-rays and 3D images and my blood pressure, all with the latest, top-end, high-tech, leading-edge equipment.
I didn’t have to wait long for the dentist. I had taken aspirin earlier in the day, and my tooth wasn’t bothering me a lot, but he pried and banged and squeezed and prodded until we managed to isolate the pain to the gum beneath the penultimate molar on the lower left—tooth 19, to be exact. He took some more X-rays and concluded that I probably needed a root canal. He said they had time to do it right then. I told him to get it over with. I asked him if I should text my boss to say I wouldn’t be coming into work, but he said I should be fine. More on this later.
That tooth has a gold crown that’s probably 30-years old. He said he could drill through the gold and do the root canal without removing the crown. They prepped me and shot me up with a gallon or two of Novocaine and went to work. I had turned down the chance to watch a movie or wear noise-cancelling headphones—to the assistant’s surprise. I could hear everything that was going on. Much of it was in dentist-speak, but after a half hour or so, I was picking up that it wasn’t going swimmingly.
After about two hours, they took off all the gear I was wearing. The dentist sat down next to me with a very serious look on his face. He explained that my tooth had turned out to be a very complicated tooth. To begin with, one of the roots had a decided hook to it—he showed this to me on the screen and I could see that it curved sharply. Also, this tooth had apparently been dead for a long time. There was a lot of calcification, including a ball of calcium that was blocking the root channels. When he removed the ball, part of the tooth came with it. At that point he decided the job was beyond him. He was now telling me that they had set up an appointment for me with a specialist who has a microscope.
My appointment was with an endodontist about four miles away, at 11:30. It was already past 10:30. I wasn’t up to running four miles, so I told him I didn’t have a car. To his credit, he hardly paused. He turned to his assistant and told her to get an Uber. Then he told me that they’d have another Uber pick me up after I was done and take me to work.
This was my first Uber ride. I texted my daughter from the backseat and asked her if I should tip. She said it would be nice to give him a buck or two. I had three singles, so I gave him two.
I walked into the endodontist office and said to the receptionist, “Hi, I’m the root canal in progress.” I had to fill out a stack of new patient forms, then was ushered into my room.
The specialist came in. He was a friendly guy and got right to work by filling me with even more Novocaine. I think I had about three gallons in me by this time. I was good and numb.
The root canal took him about two hours. He was pretty good about explaining what he was doing as he went along. He hooked a thin wire over my cheek and said it registered electrical currents and beeped when his instruments got to the bottom of the root canal. I have no idea how that works, but he pointed it out to me every time it beeped. After he had me all rigged up and before he began working, I pulled out my phone to take a selfie. He thought that was pretty funny and gave me a thumbs-up in the picture.
Two hours later, he said that everything went well, although he admitted that he’d been sweating it out during the procedure because of that hook in my one root and because of all the calcification. The receptionist called my other dentist’s office, and they called Uber. I stood outside for about five minutes until the guy showed up. He was an older gent in an SUV that smelled of smoke. He had me get in the front seat. He drove exactly the speed limit, which was weird, In Colorado, everyone always goes way over or way under. I only had one single left in my wallet, so that was his tip.
I was very numb as I walked into work, but felt fine. My boss asked if I was trying to be a hero. I wasn’t. I just felt bad because I’d recently missed three days with the flu. Besides, with all the Novocaine I’d had, I was doing OK. I mentioned that I hadn’t had any caffeine yet. She asked if I had a headache and I said yes, but only on the un-numb side of my face. I poured a Diet Pepsi, but let me tell you—it’s hard to drink when you don’t know where your lips are
A young woman named started working in my department this week. My boss had the two of us come into her office to talk about lessons that a freelancer had written. For a while I was fine, but then the Novocaine wore off and I was in intense pain. It was horrible. I’d already arranged for my wife to pick me up after she got off work, so I was there until 5. I did my best to remain in the conversation, but it was tough. My boss brought me a bag of ice. I don’t know if it helped, but it felt good to be doing something.
When I got home, I just went to bed. I didn’t have the energy to deal with anything other than the pain. After a half hour or so, I fell asleep for an hour. When I woke, I was still in pain, but functional. I had some soup and made sure I was hydrated, then sat in my chair as motionless as possible and watched Ghostbusters II. By morning, I was feeling much better and went to work. Most of the remaining pain was from having my jaw pried open for five hours and from being shot up with Novocaine needles. It certainly wasn’t the day I was expecting, but all’s swell that ends swell.