Endodontics, 1; Toothache, 0

About a month ago I offered myself to my kid as an example of good dental hygeine practices. While I have a mouthful of gold (owing mostly to molars that came with deep gooves that no brush could reach), all my teeth are alive. Wisdom teeth and all. I brush and floss every day, I told him. And I’ve used a Sonicare toothbrush for many years. The kid has one too. (Mostly it enforced a 2-minute discipline, though I usually go longer.) No cavities since I started with it.

So about an hour after I bragged on my teeth, number 17, my left mandibular third molar — the back wisdom tooth on the bottom — started to hurt like hell. I took Tylenol for it, but it only got worse, to the point where I couldn’t do anything but sit or lie there in fire-red pain that trobbed with every pulse.

After it failed to go away, I went to a dentist at Harvard Health Services. She couldn’t see anything in the x-ray and sent me to an endodontist — or a practice with six endodontists.

On the first visit, Dr. #1 saw nothing on his x-ray, and gave me some antibiotics, hoping that this would kill any infection that might be there but not visible. I took that for a week, during which the pain was the same or worse. In the course of that week I also discovered that Tylenol (acetaminophen) was the only over-the-counter pain-killer that mixed with other drugs I already take, and could cause liver damage in some cases. I checked with a pharmacist, who said not to go over 4,000 mg/day. But I found that only doses of 1,000 mg worked, and for only about three hours at a stretch. So I would dose when I needed to work, and otherwise was pretty useless.

When I went back and saw Dr. #2, he took a look with a microscope and saw a crack in the tooth, and also did some tests that confirmed it. His recommendation: get a root canal. So we scheduled one. On the way, however, I screwed up what trains I was taking, arrived a bit late, and then the anesthesia didn’t fully deaden the tooth. The doctor said we’d have to reschedule. So we did. By this time the pain was still strong, but 500 mg doses of Tylenol were working, so that gave me 8 pills a day to take.

Dr. #3 was late this time, and we had to re-schedule again.

This morning Dr. #3 did the job. The nerve is now gone, replaced with grout (or whatever they use). Turns out the crack was not front-to-back, and the tooth is strong, if also dead. My jaw hurts like hell, but that’s mostly from the multiple needle stabs required to fully anesthetize the tooth. (The nerve bundles serving the jaw are in odd places.)

Total time from toothache to toothfix: almost a month.

So the good news is that the tooth won’t hurt again. The bad news is the cost, but that’s the American Way. Also all the work I couldn’t get done because I was moving at reduced speed. Lots coming up, so it’s good to be fixed again.


  1. francine hardaway’s avatar

    All my teeth are dead. They started having troubles when I was 21 (heredity) and just kept going. What I’ve noticed is the improvement in endodontics. My last root canal, a year ago, was a single appointment. The first one, in the ’60s, took 4 appointments, the tooth never got deadened completely, and it was a ghastly experience. The last one was an hour listening to The Gillmor Gang on my iPhone.

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