First came anesthesia. The thought of a needle going into my soft gums was worse than the actual pain, which felt like a pen prodding a bruise for several seconds. Sure it hurt--but it was far from intolerable. The assistant assured me that this was the most painful part.
Even so, as the dentist prepared to drill I kept thinking that something would go wrong, that out of nowhere would shoot a stabbing pain. I clenched my hands tight, irrationally wishing for my mother--or someone to be standing by. I shut my eyes.
The drill grated on my nerves. I could feel the pressure on the tooth. But no pain came and I eventually opened my eyes. Slowly, rational thought returned. The anesthesia clearly worked. I was fine. Still, I couldn't unclench my hands or ease the tension in my body. Maybe it was the taste of chemicals, the feel of rubber gloves, the sight of dust from my own tooth in the air, and later the smell of smoke as the temporary filling was sealed in. I couldn't relax. It was my first root canal. Until it was over, my animal instincts were high on alert, taking in every sensation, ready to flee at the first warning of danger.
It took about an hour for the two root canals and cost me, on my discount plan, about $2000. That number will go up when crowns are placed on my teeth to prevent further bacteria from getting inside. In a way, I'm oddly grateful for getting through this scenario. I've had to face the nightmare scenario of a root canal with no insurance and it turned out to be quite survivable. Going to the dentist and even having cavities drilled seems cheap and not so scary. I think I'll be doing it more often.