On the root canal right of passage

Every culture has its rights of passages, rituals which mark the transitions from one stage of life to the next and in our American culture having a root canal is definitely such a transition point, serving both as a marker (usually) from early to middle-aged or older adulthood and as a true pain-based right of survival passage that tells the world you now have the wisdom to understand that you know you’re not immortal and that you have the longer-term vision to want to live as long as you can and are willing to put up with massive amounts (usually) of temporary agonizing pain for the benefit of your (hopefully) longer term lifespan.

Let me say this upfront…when it comes to going to the dentist, I have been a total and complete chickenshit, this time around going to the dentist was only the fourth time in my adult life that I had been to any dentist for any reason, and Yes I was beyond dreading it, what having heard those apocryphal stories all my life as we all have of the root canal right of passage being rough equvialent to a Dr. Mengele At The Spandau Concentration Camp For One Night Only torture just for the sheer hell of it.

Imagine my surprise when Dr. Robert P. Sopko, D.D.S., P.A., a professor of endodontics (in other words all he does is teach dental students how to do root canals for his day job and then sees patients sent to him privately on referals from other “general” dentists as well) at UNC School Of Dentistry not only turned out to be not a sadist but one of the nicest gentlemen and most concerned about not giving me pain medical professionals I have ever met, and I shall sing his praises forever.

The on my first appointment a month or so ago, my two hours+ “in the chair” was completely, and I do mean completely and totally, painless. Because of the nature of my weird body, of course I couldn’t have a normal tooth with only one root or even with the rarest cases for my Number 13 toot – the second bicuspid on the left side), No, of course not, in one of God’s little jokes He likes to play on me of course I couldn’t have been born with just one or even two roots to that tooth, The Big Guy had to give me a grand total of THREE roots on that tooth, yeah, suck it up big boy you know you’re body has always been “special”, which needed to have root canals done on each and every one of them.

Dr. Philip Thomas (who I also like) who is my wife Kris’s dentist and who agreed to see me told me that in his 36 years as a practicing general dentist he had never seen three roots on a Number 13 tooth and just shook his head in amazement when he looked at the X-ray of it, and even Dr. Sopko who has done nothing but teach students how to do root canals and then do them in private practice all day too for over twenty years told me that I was the second or third patient he had ever seen with this condition in all his years as well. Yeah, don’t ever think God doesn’t have a sense of humor, He does, trust me.

So anyway, the procedure for doing the three roots was so involved that it took two seperate appointments a month apart, the first to make an accurate assessment and then have me on antibiotics to cure the incredibly bad infection that had resulted from the tooth basically just rotting away, it coming out one Saturday in early June as Kris and I ate out (which we do almost every day anyway) at a Mexican restaurant (which normally I can’t eat the cuisine of because of all my food allergies but we were with a group of friends breaking bread together that night) when I bit down a very soft bite of plain taco, the tooth being so rotten at that point that if I had bitten down on air it would have probably broken and come out anyway, and the second the finish “going deep” into the actual root canals and finish filling out the old material and packing the holes with a special kind of antibacterial and inert elastomer, gutta percha (sp) which they used to use to stuff the inside of golf balls in the late 1800’s and which is needed to fill the space of the micro-sized holes that the endodontist creates by using these metal files so thin that they’re often no thicker than a few human hairs but which are so strong that as in my treatment by Dr. Sopko he literally had both hand on the tiny end-handles of them and was going as deep as he needed to get all the bad stuff out and we’re talking about files less than 2″ long and just a fraction of a fraction of a millimeter in diameter.

Thank God that Dr. Thomas referred me to Dr. Sopko, as pain-tolerant and resistant as I am I honestly don’t know if I could have stood being “in the chair” for two hours plus for two different times with anyone else, with another endodontist who wasn’t as caring for my well-being as a person as well as a patient and who made damned sure that whatever he did, whatever he had to me wasn’t going to give me pain, yes Thank God indeed.

While he doesn’t accept patients for root canal work directly, if you’re local to Raleigh/Cary/Apex/Wake County/the RTP/Research Triangle Park area and need a root canal, please do consider asking your general dentist to refer you to Dr. Sopko; his contact info is:

Dr. Robert P. Soko, D.D.S., P.A.
4601 Lake Boone Trail, Suite 2A
Raleigh, NC 27607
Phone: 781-2334

On the issue of costs and billing, they do take dental insurance (which my company dental insurance didn’t cover because they’re dicks) but if your dental insurance doesn’t cover the procedure or if you don’t have insurance then Dr. Sopko does require pre-payment in full. In my case, I had to pay $950 upfront and that was totally inclusive, covered both sessions and would have covered even a third or fourth of how many more if more had been needed…your cost and mileage may vary depending on what’s up in your mouth, of course…he does take Visa/MC of course as well as cash/check.

So, I sit here writing this hurting like a motherhummer, while Dr. Sopko was absolutely 100% painless in his application of cure and technique there are after-effect pains and such you need be prepared for. Mine actually aren’t that bad, I haven’t taken anything for pain for them, but hey I am and can be stubborn at times and yesterday, the morning after the second and last procedure, the left side of my face was very swollen and while at breakfast with my wife I did have a pain-wave hit and turn as white as the proverbial sheet and had to go the men’s room to throw up from the tsunami of after-effect pain that unpectedly swept over me, but while feeling like I’ve had a spear shoved up through my jawbone into my left sinus cavity I’m okay, at least now I’ve survived my latest right of middle-aged adult passage and hopefully will never have to have, God Bless Dr. Sopko and his painless technique but still, another one of these ever again, Amen.

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