Something I’ve noticed lately while doing research on different medical procedures is how difficult it is to find accessible information on what actually happens and what it feels like. While there’s clearly no shortage of detailed info to be found online, the major questions I’d want the answers to before undergoing a procedure are nowhere to be found. Even Quora is lacking. To help address this issue, I thought I’d describe my exact experience in detail for you to read–either out of curiosity or because you’re getting something done yourself. So without further ado…
I was told years ago I’d need a root canal on a tooth if I didn’t get a crown, but I’d been in the habit of ignoring dentists because one time one dude told me I had 7 cavities, so I went to another dentist and got a second opinion, and he said I had NO cavities. Basically they’d just decided to keep watching that tooth, but I took a nice long break from regular dental care (though I’ve always purchased my own health insurance) and one day, a sliver of tooth just fell out. It just kind of felt like it does when you’re a kid and have a loose tooth, but of course I freaked out and immediately went to a dentist.
I wasn’t in any pain, but apparently the cavity in the tooth was very close to the nerve, so they recommended I get a root canal, core treatment and crown. I decided to go to an endodontist instead because the price is the same out of pocket (and they use a microscope).
Okay, so basically what happened once I got to the endodontist is that they took some X-rays. Typically they hold something cold against the tooth to see if there is sensation there, but because I’d already had that done and told them I could definitely feel cold, they decided not to do it. Next was the Novocaine shot which completely numbed out the side of my mouth. After that, they put a rubber-like sheet in my mouth to keep the tooth clean.
Next is the drilling. They basically remove any tooth decay and make an opening in the crown of the tooth to remove any diseased pulp. It doesn’t even hurt at all at this point, so the sound is pretty much the worst part, but most dentists will let you listen to music. I was rocking out to Jayke Orvis.
It didn’t hurt and I didn’t hear the drilling, but what I did notice was a variety of very chemical-like smells. Some people simply get temporary (or permanent) fillings, but others get what’s called Core material. It’s made of paste and rubber, and you can definitely smell it. The smell wasn’t that unpleasant, but it was strong.
The entire process took about 45 minutes. At the end, they took another X-ray and said everything looked fine, and asked me to come back again in 6 months.
Afterwards, my mouth was a little bit sore for actually about a week. It’s really important not to chew on that side of the mouth too soon. Painkillers helped a little, but not as much as I would’ve liked. My endodontist told me I should contact him after a week if it still hurt, but it was noticeably better by then.
The next part is to get the actual crown, which has to be done ideally within a month or so because the tooth after a root canal becomes very brittle and can crack. I was originally going to go to the dental school, which offers better prices, but scheduling was an issue because students were out on break.
Typically, dentists have you come in once to get a crown fitting and then come back a second time to get the actual crown. If you haven’t been to the dentist in forever, that means they’ll want to give you a full exam, including checking for gum disease, so that part can suck depending on how your gums are. But the actual crown part doesn’t hurt because you get a nice Novocaine shot first (and maybe nitrous, if you’re lucky). Again, there’s the sound of drilling, but music can be helpful.
The part that threw me off was just how much of the tooth is removed to put in the crown. They really do whittle it down so there’s very little tooth actually left. The crown ends up matching the color almost exactly. In my case, they actually made it right then and there in the office, which is why I chose that particular dentist (thanks, Angie’s List!), and then place it on. There were weird smells, too, but not quite as strong as the root canal.
The one weird thing about having a crown that’s ceramic is that it feels very smooth and artificial. Obviously you can’t sense hot and cold anymore with that tooth because the entire nerve is removed. But the ceramic just feels…fake. It took me weeks to get used to how it felt when I ran my tongue across it, though I could chew on it right away. (Some people are sore for 1-2 days, but I didn’t experience that.)
Costs really vary by location, but for me the root canal and crown combined cost about $2400 total out of pocket.
One way to lower costs is by going to a dental school, which takes longer but is far less expensive. Also, CareCredit allows for payment plans, often with financing for a year or even longer. So there’s definitely options that will help keep the costs down or allow you to slowly pay it off. Obviously, waiting can sometimes be more expensive.
I hope this is helpful–and feel free to leave your questions in the comments.