For the last two years or so the teeth on the upper right side of my mouth have felt off, as in not right.. I especially noticed this during those long days in the saddle on bike tours. Some days it felt as if one of my teeth was going to pop out. It wasn’t painful, just strange.
Sunday morning I woke up and made breakfast. With my first sip of coffee I experienced a dull ache in the same area of my mouth. The more I ate and drank, the more intense the ache became. When I was in graduate school, I experienced the same pain sensation in the front of my mouth. The problem was an infected root in one of my two front teeth. The solution was a root canal.
I decided to wait and see what happened. I took acetaminophen for the pain and went about my day. The next morning the pain had subsided. I called my dentist and made an appointment for Thursday (today), thinking that perhaps this pain was a side effect of my second Covid vaccine shot last Thursday. On Tuesday the dull ache was gone, replaced by only a stabbing pain when I chewed using one of my upper right teeth. Yesterday, the pain was nearly gone altogether but every so often I’d get a jolt when chewing. This morning it felt better still.
In late morning, I went to my dentist. He took an x-ray of the offending area and did some basic investigations for the source of the pain. I knew which tooth it was but sometimes problems in one area of the mouth create referred pain in another area. (This is the essence of spinal stenosis. a pinching of the spinal cord that appears as a pain in the leg.)
Although the x-ray was inconclusive (a mass of nerves in the tooth were obstructed from view by a crown) the dentist diagnosed a tooth with necrotic nerves, or in layman’s term a dead tooth. He referred me to an endodontist.
The endodontist took me right away. She did a similar examination and added one extra step. She put ice cold material on some sort on the suspect tooth and the one next to it. I felt nothing on the bad tooth but the neighboring tooth was ice cold. She looked at the same inconclusive x-ray and agreed with my dentist. My nerves in my tooth were kaput having most likely died sometime on Sunday. (My sister-in-law who is not a dental professional made the same diagnosis, by the way.)
We discussed treatment options. Basically, there are few. Do a root canal or pull the tooth. I picked root canal. I was expecting a brutally difficult procedure but it was unbelievable benign.
After three painful shots of novocaine, one on each side of the tooth and one in the roof of my mouth, the endodontist put a clamp of sorts around the tooth. She put a cushion between my upper and lower teeth on the opposite side of my mouth so I could relax my jaw in an open position. Then a tent of sorts with a hole in the middle was placed over the front of my mouth.
Instead of looking directly into my mouth, the endodontists used a very cool microscope. She looked into lenses at a 90 degree angle from the opening in my mouth. Her line of sight was reflected down the main mast of what looked like a large lens with an integrated light that illuminated the work area. I was given sunglasses to wear so that the light wouldn’t bother me.
The procedure involved drilling through the crown to the tooth. She removed decayed tooth material under the crown then went about extracting the roots. Since my root channels were tight (something she could see on the x-ray) she had to spend several minutes opening them up, being careful all the time not to compromise the structural integrity of the bone.
I had thought ahead and taken Flonase beforehand which allowed me to breathe freely through my nose despite having a rough time with spring pollen. As long as I focused on not gagging I had no problem just letting her go at it. An assistant suctioned my mouth from time to time but this was more for the endodontist’s benefit than mine.
The endodontist walked me through all the sensations I would be feeling. “You’ll feel some pressure.” “This will be a bit noisy.” “You may hear a beep or two.”
After a few seconds during which I expected to feel pain, I realized that my mouth was so numb that she could have hit the tooth with a sledge hammer and I wouldn’t have felt a thing.
I could tell that the drilling had entered the tooth itself because the taste changed. Different but not nasty. After the drilling and some carpentry with a dental probe, she used another tool that felt like a spinning piece of sandpaper.
After perhaps 30 minutes of this, she announced we were almost done. She warned me that she was going to put some “medicine” in the tooth and that it would hurt. Yep. Just for a nanosecond I felt a sharp stinging pain like a very fine needle or electric shock.
Finally, only a couple of minutes later she closed the top of the tooth with a temporary filling and I was good to go.
She said that when the novocaine wore off I’d feel pretty much the same as earlier in the week. I’d have an intense dull ache that would fade away over a few days.
I went home and had a soft lunch. About an hour later the pain hit. And it hit. And it hit. The only riding I did today was on the couch. I took some acetaminophen and tried to think of anything but the ache in my mouth. It crested after two or three hours but I was pretty miserable.
The endodontist called to check up on me at around 6 pm. She said everything was going by the book and told me to call her if I had any problems.
In ten days I go back to have her finish the job. Then I go back to my dentist for either a filling or a new crown.