Root Canal Success (With a Little Help from Gentle Dentist and Xanax)

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PinkKitty

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Aug 7, 2015
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I've lurked here for several days after finding out I needed a root canal, and this forum was a huge help. It's all done now and was a rousing success, so I'm hoping perhaps my story can help others like the stories here helped me.

Background: Abusive mother never took me to the dentist, and one of her favorite punishments involved covering my nose and mouth to make me stop crying. The latter has caused problems with swimming but initially not with dentistry. The only time I went to a dentist before adulthood was as a teen with two severe abscesses back around 1980. A neighbor took pity on me and took me in to have them pulled with sodium pentathol, so I was totally out for the whole thing.

When I started working in the mid-1980s, I got fillings as I could afford them. My only fear was general pain and my dentist always numbed me enough to where he could have cut my tongue off with a sword and I wouldn't feel it. Never had any traumatic experiences with him.

Got married, moved, and got a new dentist who was also very conscientious about keeping patients comfortable. I had insurance by that time, so I got bridges to replace the teeth I'd lost as a teen. All was well until we switched to an HMO for financial reasons. BAD move. They did all cleanings...not deep cleanings, but even regular ones...in two visits so they could bill more. I started having trouble with a tooth and they said I needed a root canal and referred me to an endo without even testing it. I was already apprehensive because I'd heard so many root canal horror stories, and the fact that he sat me down and immediately started clamping on a dental dam with no numbing or explanation or anything didn't help. It triggered my suffocation fear, so he ripped it off and said, "I'm not going to deal with this. Go somewhere else because I won't work on you." Literally, that was all he said.

I bit the bullet moneywise and went back to my old dentist who said the tooth might not even need a root canal, as a very deep filling might do the trick. He was shocked they hadn't tested it. I took some Xanax (use it for plane trips so had some on hand) and let him fill it. Indeed, all it needed was the deep filling, and it's still fine to this day. I was still okay for cleanings and thankfully didn't need any major work in the ensuing years.

Fast forward to a move out of state. Found another gentle dentist and I was fine with cleanings there, too, although my fear intensified into being afraid of having my throat numbed and choking. Luckily I didn't have any problems that needed local (made it through a crown and one cavity without, although I think he wished I would have numbed up for the crown because it was making HIM flinch, LOL). Then he retired, and his colleague and another dentist kept the practice going. My husband had a root canal done by the new dentist and pronounced it easy and pain free.

Meanwhile, one of the teeth below my lower bridge had been giving me sensitivity problems for a while, but I ignored it until one day it decided to abscess (on a Friday night, no less). Cue a horrorshow of dental pain and terror on my part because I knew a root canal was inevitable. I studied all weekend, including lots of reading here. My logical mind said "no biggie," but knowing I had to have a dental dam and be severely numbed terrified me beyond belief.

On Monday, the same dentist who worked on my husband confirmed my worst fears, but I needed antibiotics first. She also prescribed pain pills and some Xanax for the procedure since it had worked for me before but said the dental dam must be used to keep out the contamination. I told her what a phobic chicken I am (I don't think they ever realized it before since I was fine for the years of cleanings I'd had done there), and she promised to work around it. She also said they had nitrous if we needed to try that. She also promised I could hold one of those spit suction things if I wanted to, as the idea made me feel better about not potentially choking on my spit.

I drugged myself with as much Xanax as I dared on root canal day and explained my fear of my throat being numb. The assistant applied the topical in a way where none ran down my throat to prevent that. Then the dentist gave the first shot and asked if I could still feel anything. Yep...so one more. Could still feel a bit, so one more and my gums were totally numb and ready to go. The assistant explained that they'd only put the dam on at the point where it's needed and that she'd cut and position it in a way that wouldn't block my face or obstruct my breathing. I actually like bite blocks so I don't have to worry about holding my mouth open; they gave me one, I plugged in my iPod, and I drifted into Xanax la la land. I remember them telling me when the dam was on and asking if it was okay. I'm not sure how they positioned it, but it didn't obstruct me in a scary way at all. Next thing I knew, it was over! I did noticed some smells when they drilled and when they put the stuff into the tooth, but that was about it. I literally did not feel one bit of pain. Zero. Nada. I could not believe it. It took three hours, but with the drugs it didn't seem nearly that long.

The experience was so good that I could probably do a root canal without any Xanax, although I'd go for a light dose just to make sure I'd still feel okay about the dental dam. If you're afraid of those like me, talk to your doctor about the positioning as they should be able to make adjustments even though they do have to use it. I discovered it was actually really nice not to have anything drip or drop into my throat. I have no fear at all of my upcoming appointment to put on the restoration and bridge.

I'll always be a dental chicken, but I spent my life in terror of the day I'd need a root canal and now that's over. I learned that the most important thing is to find a dentist who understands, not like that Steve Martin Little Shop of Horrors endo, and that it's well worth it to pay more for a competent, empathic professional. That, plus a little pharmacological help if needed, can make the experience so much more comfortable (or at least tolerable).
 
carole

carole

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Hi :welcome: to the forum.

Thank you for taking the time to write about your experience. I really enjoyed reading this and I am sure it will help others that come along and read it.

Congratulations :jump::jump::jump::jump::jump: on getting yourself there to get this done :yayy::claps::claps::claps::perfect::butterfly:
 
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PinkKitty

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Aug 7, 2015
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Thanks! It was hard for me to be upfront about my fears with the dentist because I'm a very strong willed person in most areas and don't like to admit to any vulnerability. By sharing my fears and asking for what I needed to get through it, it made a huge difference. I hope my story encourages others to do the same.
 
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