It all started with a trip to the dentist last Monday, December 29. Despite the dentist being my uncle, it still makes me very anxious just to go get my teeth cleaned. Every year I dread it, but every year I survive and squeak by without any cavities. Until this year. I had a tooth that had been bothering me for a few months. Nothing terrible, just minor sensitivity to hot and cold. I told my uncle about it so he took a look at the tooth before doing the regular cleaning stuff. It didn’t show any signs of decay and nothing happened, except for some minor discomfort, when he poked it with the pokey stick thing they use. So he told me the tooth was probably just getting a bit sensitive as I got older, and that he didn’t think there was actually anything wrong. He took x-rays just to be safe and went on with the cleaning.
You know it’s never a good sign when your dentist looks at your x-ray and says “oh, boy.” It’s also not a good sign when your dentist tells you that you need to move to another room, because he doesn’t have all the equipment he needs in his regular room. Both of those things happened after he looked at my x-ray. Turns out I had somehow managed to develop a large “void” in the middle of my tooth.
So I got to experience my first cavity drilling and filling. Not a lot of fun, and somewhat painful. I’m a bit sensitive to stuff in my mouth to begin with, and apparently the location of the damage in the tooth caused me to experience a deep pinching-type pain during the filling. When he finished I thought “well, I survived and it’s over.” Boy was I wrong. Things were just getting started.
The Novocain wore off a few hours after getting home from the dentist. That’s when the aching, throbbing pain started. It was tolerable, but it was not pleasant. I spent a large portion of the late morning and afternoon bumming around on the couch. Barry has had a few cavities and fillings before, and he had never experienced discomfort like that afterwards, so I figured I was just being a baby.
I felt a bit better on Tuesday and thought the whole ordeal was over. But the throbbing pain came back by Tuesday evening and persisted off and on. Sometimes it would get really intense, and by Thursday I had realized cold things triggered it. So I started avoiding all things cold, except running outside in the cold. My tooth, and the surrounding area, would throb during every run in the cold air. It was only mild, but when I finished running and got back in the car the throbbing would get so bad I would nearly be in tears.
I had been taking over the counter pain meds, and using Orajel and Anbesol (topical gels used for tooth/mouth pain), but they weren’t helping much. On Saturday morning the pain became bad enough to wake me up between 2:30 and 3:00 in the morning.
After my long run on Saturday morning, the pain became so intense on the drive home that I finally contacted my uncle about it. Why I waited until then, I have no idea. I tend to take the approach to pain and illness of “ignore it and it will go away” which can often be dumb. He asked a few questions about the pain, what triggered it, etc. and then put me on a Ibuprofen regimen three times per day.
He stated that the damage in my tooth was deep and that the nerve was reacting adversely to the filling. It had become swollen, but since the nerve canal is very narrow the swollen nerve was being pinched, which was causing the pain. The hope was that 24-36 hours of Ibuprofen would allow the nerve to settle down.
It did seem to help at first, but then the pain came back. Oddly enough, by Sunday afternoon I found that the trigger for the pain had switched to hot stuff. Sunday night and all day Monday, the only thing that soothed the throbbing was sipping on cold water. So I spent all day Monday sipping cold water literally every 30 seconds to two minutes to keep the throbbing and often burning pain at bay. I couldn’t get more than 10 feet from a bathroom all day, but at least I was hydrated, right? Later that evening Barry cautioned me to be careful about how much water I consumed. I had completely forgotten about the dangers of overhydrating, and spent the rest of the night worrying about hyponatremia on top of everything else. So I started spitting out the water instead of swallowing it. (Side note: I think it takes a lot of water- like 6 gallons- in a very short period of time to develop non-exercise related hyponatremia.)
I pretty much didn’t sleep at all Monday night. The only way I could control the pain was to hold cold water in my mouth. Every time I tried to fall asleep the pain would become so intense I’d have no choice but to sip more water. I kept drifting off with water in my mouth, would spill the water on myself, and then would immediately wake up and be in pain again. It was a fun cycle I did from 2:30 to 6:30 AM.
Yesterday I made it through a half day at work before I was in tears (literally) and drove home to finish my work day in my home office. I hadn’t been able to eat anything all day. I called my uncle, who called a type of specialist called an endodentist, who was able to fit me yesterday evening. A lot of you probably already guessed where this was headed. Yep, I went straight from my first cavity to my first root canal.
So I got to the specialist yesterday evening. They stayed late for me, for which I was extremely appreciative. I thanked each of them. By this point I was having to sip ice cold water (no longer just ice water) and needed a fresh sip every 30 seconds. I really don’t think I could have survived another night. As soon as the specialist came in the room and saw me holding the ice water he said “irreversible pulpitis.” Which means the soft inner part of my tooth was inflamed and the nerve was in the process of dying.
Apparently at first when you have the reversible kind of pulpitis (when your nerve is trying to save itself) you are sensitive to cold and hot is soothing. That’s where I was early last week. Then when it switches to irreversible pulpitis (when the nerve begins to die) you are sensitive to hot, but cold is soothing. I was almost at the end of this nerve dying process, and had it actually died my tooth would have been considered dead as well. The danger with this is then I’m going down the road towards developing a bad infection.
I was pretty nervous about having a root canal, but it wasn’t awful. It was a bit uncomfortable and not all that pleasant (you hear a lot of scary noises), but they numbed me up really well beforehand so I never felt pain. The dentist and his assistant were both great and switched from casual conversation to letting me know what was going on. When I heard something scary or saw something I didn’t want to see (like some of the tools) I just stared at the ceiling and tried to think about something else. It took about 2 hours, and then it was done.
Now I am back to normal. This morning I have a dull, throbbing headache that extends down to my left jaw. But it’s not awful, and it’s a thousand times less painful that how I felt before the root canal. I’m taking some ibuprofen for it, but I probably won’t even need to do that after today. I’m also on antibiotics for a few days to prevent any infection, since there’s a risk of bacteria getting into the bone above the tooth during the procedure.
All in all, the pain beforehand was some of the worst I’ve experienced. The root canal was not awful, but I’m also hoping not to do it again. Hopefully I’ll never have another cavity, either, because if I do I’m going to be afraid all of this will happen again. Other than that, this journey (and very long post) is pretty much over. I still need to go back to my regular dentist to get a crown put on the tooth. But it’s sealed for now and I just have to be careful not to bite anything hard on that side so as not to mess up the filling. Here’s to that being my first and last root canal!
Have you ever had a root canal?