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If Dante Had a Root Canal

If Dante had been more creative in his satirical classic, The Divine Comedy, he would have invented a 10th circle of hell, where people go to the dentist. Virgil would escort people around from room to room to endure cleanings, fillings, and root canals for all eternity. This would be for sinfully lazy people who don't floss their teeth, like my husband. Of course, Dante lived before the age of oral hygiene, so he was uninformed about this modern form of torture.

I would not be consigned to circle #10, because I have impeccable oral hygiene - obsessively so. I endure yearly cleanings, though truly I don't see the point.

"My gracious! What clean teeth you have," says the hygienist. "Barry! Come over here and take a look at this woman's teeth...not a speck of plaque!... Well done, Miss!"

(I take that last detail back. People don't say 'missus' or 'ma'am' in Philly ... They just grunt at you).

"Actually," says the dentist, seriously, "You brush too much. Your gums are starting to recede. You must use extra soft bristles and brush less."

I really can't win.

But hygiene doesn't seem to matter because last year, I woke up with sharp pain in my tooth, radiating up the left side of my face. A quick trip to the dentist revealed that I had an infection and needed an emergency root canal.

Before the procedure, I had taken ibuprofen and was feeling a little more coherent. The dentist came over, visibly pregnant and in her third trimester. We made some small talk and I invited her to my upcoming birth class.

She began the procedure by taking an impression for the crown and then shaving the tooth. Whatever is going to happen, I thought, I can handle this. But as she is drilling in my mouth, I began to feel woozy, shaky and a bit queasy.

Normally, I'm a minimalist when it comes to drugs. I've had two natural childbirths and as an educator, I literally teach women how to handle pain for a living. I even have special training in medical hypnosis. And here I am, advertising my services to the pregnant dentist. The stakes felt high.

She hit the nerve. "Ahhhhhhhhhhhh mmmmmmm!" I made a high-pitched yelp.

I may be a minimalist when it comes to medications, but at the dentist, give me the DRUGS. The local anesthesia. The Tylenol. The laughing gas. I want it all, and extra shots for good measure.

There's no pain like a little needle sticking into the nerve of your molar. It doesn't matter how much medication they give me really, because I can still feel it. And even knowing what they're doing is enough to make my stomach churn.

This isn't fair, I thought. I brush three times a day, floss every day (sometimes twice), never drink soda and rarely eat sweets - and here I am in my mid-thirties needing root canals! My husband, in contrast, never flosses, forgets to brush, loves eating donuts, and never gets cavities!

Genes play a big role here. Go figure. Life isn't fair.

She continued the procedure, and it felt like a lifetime of drilling.

Be tough. Be tough. Be tough, I thought.

I silently tried deep breathing. Progressive muscle relaxation. Visualization:

I'm thinking of my happy place. I'm in the mountains, walking through the forest, listening to the birds sing, smelling the leaves...

My efforts failed me. I was gripping the armrest of that uncomfortable blue chair with white knuckles. Seeing my pale complexion and withdrawn facial expression, the dentist gave me a little break to breathe and compose myself before finishing the procedure. When it was finished, I felt relief.

I realize I should be grateful. If I lived in Dante's day, I would have certainly lost my tooth and likely would have died from infection.

So, I paid my $1400 and thanked her.

Not surprisingly though, she didn't contact me for birthing classes.


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