Root Canal, Part 2

In Part 1 of Root Canal: The Unauthorized Autobiography, I signed off with a complicated dilemma: Should I get nitrous oxide to offset the anxiety of having a practitioner dig farm implements into my tooth roots? Or should I be brave and just go for novocaine? A third option would have been to kick the endodontist in the kneecaps and run like anything.  

Panicked, I did what any mature forty-eight-year old woman does from an endodontist’s office at 10:45 in the morning on a Tuesday. I called Daddy.

“Have you ever had gas at the dentist?” I asked him.

“Sure,” he answered, cheerfully.

“You have anxiety?” I asked. My father is famous for being able to have anything stuck down his throat: wire coat hangers, tongue depressors, lime popsicles, shish kebobs without their shishes. Dad finds medical procedures, even when done to him, worthwhile and fascinating experiences.

“I don’t have any anxiety,” Dad said. “I just really like the gas.”

I got off the phone and went back to the front desk. I interrogated the secretary.

Will it make me sleepy?






Is it constipating?

“Trust me, our patients are very happy on nitrous,” the secretary said. She looked annoyed and busy. “You’ll be totally relaxed.”

I wondered about that. What would it feel like to be relaxed during a root canal? I’ve actually had a few root canals without heavy narcotics, and I think it would be safe to say that they have not been relaxing experiences. Sure, I’ve been asleep. But you wouldn’t call that relaxed. That’s more unconscious, and it’s a pleasant side effect of taking twelve xanax tablets. But since Dr. Mejia was refusing me Xanax without a ride home, I’d have to be awake. Even with the gas, I’d be aware of all the smoke and grinding and fireworks and explosions — the crazy-making part. I don’t even mind the needle, frankly. They numb you with a q-tip before they stick you, and it’s rarely exciting. But something about watching someone take twelve-inch prongs and lowering them into a tunnel down inside your tooth makes me nuts. I worry the prong will come out the other side and pierce another hole in my earlobe. I worry that a too-deep probe will find a nerve the novocain hasn’t permeated, and then suddenly I’m Marathon Man. If I start to get too crazy with worry, I start thinking about deep cavities in general, and I worry that they’re never going to get Baby Jessica out of that well, even though she is all grown up with kids of her own. I worry about other canals, too — old chewing gum lost in sewers, babies born in toilet drains, a missed pap smear appointment. I worry, I worry, I worry.  

Still, I was busy that day, and I couldn’t rely on a cab service to get me where I needed to go. I’m a busy mother of three. There are fruit roll-ups to buy, violin lessons to oversee, profanities to scream. Much as I fantasized, I did not have time to spend the rest of my day as if I’d been clubbed by my dentist. 

So, gas. I went for it. Agreed, submitted, acquiesced. They roll out this machine with a rubber hose on it, and you immediately start thinking about that Steve Martin scene in Little Shop of Horrors.

But, oh man! I had no idea that life could be so nice. Dr. Mejia said, “I’ll give you the gas before we put the novaine in, and then it won’t bother you.”

I told Dr. Mejia that I actually liked to be lucid for the novocain part, because it’s not the needle that bothers me. I actually like the feeling of the novocain going in. It reminds me of my cocaine days when we coaxed powder into our gums like babies on Anbesol. It’s the rest that kills my head. I hate the rattling and the worrying that a zinger is about to come down from on high and jet my eyeballs backwards. When one is lying on one’s back, regardless of locale, it should be a sweet experience. 

Dr. Mejia numbed the buccal side of my gums at the back with a tingly Q-tip. Then, without a word, she stuck me in three places. That was fun, especially the part where she sinks an injection into your soft palate. I told her I didn’t appreciate this in as elegant a manner as I could muster, but by that point I was already looking like the picture below, so what I said or gestured was anyone’s guess. 

How are you feeling, Amy? 


Ok. She’s ready. [to assistant] Get the cattle prod. And the Chair of Torture, the Pear of Anguish, and the Judas Cradle. 

Mm hmm. That’s right, honey. Just give it all to me. Give it to me hard. Say my name. 


Turn it up, Dr. Mejia. Ooh. Turn that shiz way, way up. True, I do feel like I might pass out. Or hallucinate after some mild vomiting. That’s okay, though. It’s all okay now because even though I might be dead right now, at least there is no more worry, no more anxiety, no more excogitating. No fake news. No Jared Kushner. No deleted tax deductions for school teachers or colonoscopies or vasectomies or any ectomies. Charlie Rose and Bill Clinton are now personal assistants to Gloria Steinem. I can read small print and throw away my readers. 

Nitrous Oxide, or gas, as they say, is amazing. It’s a sensation that is hard to describe because in fact you do feel things. You feel all the same things you would feel if you didn’t have the gas, the main difference being that you simply don’t give a rat’s patoobies. I’m telling you true. She could have bludgeoned me in the chair and I would have felt that pain and breathed in the clean, scentless smell of gas and said, That’s Nice.

I was sad when it was over. I wanted her to put the hose back on and remove the rest of my teeth with Needle Nose Pliers. 

When I paid the seventy-five extra bucks for the gas, I lamented to the secretary that the procedure was less than ten minutes. Wish it had been longer, I said. 

Amy, Dr. Mejia worked on you for over an hour. 

Why don’t all practitioners offer gas? Why isn’t gas required for all procedures? Why can’t we take our own little cannister of nitrous with us when we have to go to the DMV or to baggage claim? Would my accountant mind if I snarfed a little nitrous as we went through my box of receipts? Or my wireless representative? 

Do yourself a favor if you find the dentist even a tiny bit uncomfortable. Or even if you love going. Get the gas. The only thing you’ll regret is that your appointment is over and there are no more roots to grind. 

You’re welcome. 

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