You know the idiom “as fun as a root canal”? Well, I’ve had quite a bit of fun now that I’ve undergone a lifetime of seven of them.
I recently went through a surgery during COVID - my first surgery I’ve ever undergone, which certainly was not ideal timing.
I get self-conscious about this topic. I imagine people will immediately think “ew, does he not take care of his teeth?”, but that is not always the reason for getting a root canal. I’ve never even had a cavity! Unfortunately, one chipped tooth over 20 years ago created this.
The surgery was scary, especially since it was in my mouth during COVID, but it needed to be done.
This all started from chipping one of my front teeth (tooth #9 for those that know what that means) when I was 6 years old on the playground during recess. I still remember sticking my head between ladder rungs during a game of tag, and while withdrawing my head, I was too close to the bottom row and clipped my tooth.
Side note: I remember running to a school aid and the first thing I said was “do you have any milk?" because I heard that doctors can reattach a tooth if it is put in milk in time, lol
It was a tiny chip, and it was looking like I would just get it capped and move on. But instead, the following occurred over the course of 20 years;
I started by getting my tooth capped to make it look like it wasn't chipped until middle school, when my tooth started hurting a lot.
My dentist told me there was pain because of nerve damage and the tooth had died - this resulted in them having to give me a root canal to relieve the pressure causing the pain.
Five years after the root canal, I was having pain again and other details nobody wants to read in a financial blog. My dentist referred me to an endodontist, who told me my root canal had failed, causing an infection in my gums. This infection caused nerve damage in another tooth (tooth #11). They re-root canaled #9 and then root canaled #11 (root canal tally: 3).
When I went back to check how tooth #11 was healing from the procedure, they determined that #10 was also damaged and needed its very own root canal (tally: 4).
Once completed, the endodontist told me to go get surgery to clean the infection, because it was not going to heal on its own. They also told me it would not spread, now that all the teeth were correctly root canaled and cleaned. They sent me a referral, and when I called this place, they told me they are going to pull all three teeth… why would I get my teeth root canaled just to get them pulled?? I knew this was wrong, so I didn’t go forward with it, I got discouraged, and I didn’t know who to turn to for trustworthy advice.
Five years later (ugh, why so long), I moved to Arizona and decided to get this resolved because it was important to my health and happiness. I went to a dentist (found one via Google search) - they took one x-ray and didn't even look in my mouth. They told me my ONLY option was:
Pull the three teeth and put in a bone graft because the infection destroyed so much bone in my mouth. This would take 9 months to heal and I would be without three of my front teeth while I waited for the healing.
Place titanium studs in the newly formed bone. This would take 3 months to heal, still no teeth.
Put in three fake teeth once the studs are healed.
This was going to cost me $14k out of pocket (after insurance!). But hey, they were more than happy to help me get a loan in place, very sweet of them!
I cried. Then decided to get a second opinion.
My next dentist was immediately confident that my teeth could be saved. This was really promising to me as she talked about other cases that were in much worse shape that had a positive outcome. She referred me to a new endodontist who has been through these cases, and this endodontist has been amazing.
He has taken all my feelings into consideration, explained all my options to me and given his professional recommendation each time, which I can tell is his true feelings and not the route that would make him the most money.
With this new endodontist, I went through three re-root canals (count: 7). We had little hope this would heal everything, but whether it succeeded or not, this step was needed to ensure everything was cleaned and set up to heal after surgery.
Once we learned the infection wasn’t healing from this step, we went through the surgery called an apicoectomy, and placed two bone grafts to rebuild the bone that was lost. There was a sphere of bone missing in my gums about the diameter of a quarter.
I go back for an evaluation on how everything is healing in a few months (one year after the surgery) and I am hopeful that things are healed and I can finally put this headache behind me.
What I Learned
I learned some important lessons throughout this experience that I want to share:
I feel disappointed in the dental profession - I was getting mixed messages about what to do and I felt that nobody could clearly explain my options to me. But ultimately, I have nobody to blame but myself. This can go for every profession, as there are bad apples everywhere. My lesson is to find somebody you trust and follow through with it. If you do not trust somebody in a profession, do not assume everybody in that profession is untrustworthy; find that trustworthy person so that you can get help with your problem.
You’re responsible! I can make a lot of excuses, but the reason I went through all of this is because I wasn’t diligent in getting this done. I wish I had been more motivated to get this over with when I was much younger, both psychologically and financially (back when I was on the parents’ insurance!).
Trust your instincts; if it feels like something is off, get a second opinion.
Understand your options; ask questions to make sure you are making a decision that makes you most comfortable, not the professional.
Emergency funds are very important! I have now paid about $7k in dental work over the last 12 months and this could have really hurt me if I did not have the cash available to pay for these services. It may have put this off even further, resulting in more issues down the line.
The final thing I learned is that dental insurance sucks.