Wednesday, January 27, 2010

The Tooth, the Whole Tooth, and Nothing But the Tooth

When I say the words root canal, what mental image forms?

(a) Pain? (b) Suffering? (c) Enormous expense? (d) All of the above?

The correct answer is - at least in my case - (d).

This story actually begins last Sunday, when I awoke with a moderately painful toothache. By Monday morning it had gone from "moderately painful" to "AAARRRGGGHHH GIVE ME DRUGS!!!", and I called my dentist to beg for a euthanasia appointment.

So it was that yesterday morning at 1000, I sat in the chair in my dentist's office while he gravely explained the gray and white blobs on the x-ray picture that showed that (a) I needed a root canal, and (b) because of my exceptionally long and narrow tooth roots, he needed to refer me to a specialist in long and narrow roots (translation: very expensive).

One hour later, I found myself checking in at the office of the new dentist. The tasteful furnishings, marble-surfaced check-in desk, and soft, pleasant elevator music had me wary from the start, and I knew I was in trouble when the beautiful young receptionist welcomed me with the standard greeting of the health care industry:

"Drivers license and insurance card, please."

I surrendered the required documents, filled out a ream of papers (which included one informing me that nothing would be done until I was able to guarantee payment by a combination of insurance, cash, credit cards, cut gems, or livestock (oops, sorry, the last one only applies in rural areas). Since I was in relative agony, I filled out and signed everything with only the quickest of readings. This dentist probably now owns my soul.

Since I was a walk-in patient, I then proceeded to wait for nearly two hours until the doctor could fit me in. A Sweet Young Technician with a delightful accent (El Salvador, as it turned out) came out to the waiting room, woke me up, and led me to the room where I would be convinced to confess to whatever I had been accused of.

Here is how a root canal happens:

1. You sit in the chair and answer for the Sweet Young Technician all the questions you already answered when you filled out the forms in the waiting room.

2. You wait.

3. The doctor comes in, greets you, and asks you all the questions you've already answered for the Sweet Young Technician and on the forms you filled out in the waiting room.

4. The doctor tells you to open wide, then identifies the problem tooth by hitting each tooth with a nine-pound hammer until you scream.

5. You get a shot of novocaine to deaden the site.

6. The doctor leaves to attend to another patient.

7. The doctor eventually comes back and begins to drill, dig and blast. You scream because the novocaine has worn off. The doctor gives you another shot, then leaves to attend another patient.

8. The novocaine wears off.

9. The doctor comes back and repeats step 7.

10. Repeat steps 8 and 9 as often as necessary.

11. Eventually, the doctor declares you finished, having extracted all the dead nerve material from the tooth and money from your wallet. He tells you to see the secretary for your follow-on appointment.

At this point, all the novocaine shots had finally kicked in, and the left side of my face was sliding into my lap. I staggered out to schedule my follow-on appointment, and the secretary greeted me with the alternative health care industry greeting: "The balance not covered by your insurance is $ would you like to pay that?"

I reviewed the payment options and discovered that "Monopoly money" and "Smiles and handshakes" were not on the list. I grudgingly surrendered my poor, battered credit card.


I have survived my first root canal. The insane pain has been replaced with a dull ache and two bottles of Really Good Drugs, and my credit card bill has skyrocketed.

And today, I get to fly to Colorado Springs for a conference.

At least, I'm already suffering from a dull ache. I'm ahead of the game.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


P.S. - I will be traveling today through Friday, and on Friday the DC area may have a "significant" snowfall, just in time for me to get back. Sigh. I will probably be able to keep up the blog and Facebook page normally, but be prepared for possible glitches.

You'll get over it.



The Mistress of the Dark said...

This post reminds me why I believe that eyes and teeth should be part of every health insurance plan..but that rant is a long and angry one. Hope you can enjoy your trip.

Audrey said...

I had a very similar experience at a fancy "specialist." My friend who drove me to my appointment and waited for me in the waiting room couldn't stop going on and on about what a nice place it was. The furniture, the magazines, etc. She was especially impressed with the mini fridge stocked with free diet sodas and bottled water, the receptionist told her to help herself. "I had three diet cokes and they wouldn't even let me pay for them!" she exclaimed. We were driving home and when filling up for gas, I asked her to get me a diet coke when she went inside the store. She gave me an expectant look, waiting for me to hand her a dollar or two for the soda. I handed her my credit card receipt from the root canal specialist in the amount of $985. I told her I'm the one that paid for her three sodas earlier in the day, she laughed and said this one was her treat. We still laugh about that story, though her more than I.

Mike said...

I've been lucky with all(3) the root canals I've had. Never much pain followed by being bored to death sitting in the dentist chair for an hour. Of course the non covered $500 is always fun.

Leslie David said...

Fortunately I didn't go in on an emergency basis, nor do I have weird teeth, or in your case, roots. She numbed a very small portion of my jaw and explained what she was doing every step of the way. I expect root canals are like crowns--insurance only pays 50%. I also wish that insurance covered hearing aids which are much more expensive than root canals.

I'm surprised that your dentist is allowing you to fly so soon.

KKTSews said...

I have lost track of how many root canals I've had. I think they generally get a bum rap--if done well, they don't really hurt that much. The most difficult time I had was an emergency one during a power outage in Dec 2004. After two days of no power, the office called me to say the good news was the power was on, but the bad news was the temp in the building was just above freezing. The doc came in and did the root canal unassisted, with me under about 5 blankets. I wouldn't have made him do it in the cold but it really was an emergency situation and, by then, Dec 24th. I think that one was worth the $495 co pay.

Bilbo said...

Okay, okay...truth be told, it wasn't all that bad, except for the part about the cost. But if I'd written THAT, it wouldn't have been nearly as entertaining, would it? Humpf.

SusieQ said...

You haven't been to the dentist or paid any REAL dental fees until you have had several dental implants embedded in your jawbone. Implants are funny looking little posts with grooves that are placed in your jawbone so that your artificial teeth have something to attach to. By comparison root canals amount to a walk in the park and a very cheap walk at that.

As far as the fees are concerned, of course it depends on how many implants you receive. In my case, I could have paid for a very nice new car or a big fat diamond ring...maybe both with the money I spent on my mouth. Unlike a car and a diamond ring, my implants are not worth much...can't trade them in...can't sell them. But, Oh! what a million dollar smile I have now.

Bilbo said...

Susie Q - you win!