Getting to the root of the root canal procedure | News, Sports, Jobs

While Patty Kimerer is on leave, we present this Classic Kimerer column originally published Aug. 24, 2003:

I don’t know if you realize it, but rarely when the word “root” is included in a sentence or phrase is it in any way associated with something positive.

Think about it. “The love of money is the root of all evil.” “Let’s get to the root of the problem.” “I can’t find the receipt; better start rooting through the garbage.” “I think I need to get to the hair salon, my gray roots are showing.”

See the common denominator?

Oh, and there are always the inevitable cable television, utility line or plumbing problems when tree roots wind their way too close to the house. And speaking of plumbing, the firms whose brave employees must battle unmentionable sludge to keep our pipes free flowing usually have “rooter” as the base of the company name.

Oooh, and how about all the work in your high school foreign language class involving root words?

And let’s not forget that the hardest, most unusable and overall least desirable portion of a vegetable is, you guessed it, the root.

So, when your dentist looks at you and mentions the ever-dreaded procedure known as the root canal, you just know no good can come of it.

“Hmmm, root canal. Don’t suppose there’s any chance that’s the name of some tropical dental clinic south of the equator you want to send me to, right Doc?”

Of course I was only joking with my dentist, who happens to be my brother-in-law.

The first time he had to utter the frightening phrase was about two months before Kerry and I got married. I don’t know if it was the joy of our impending nuptials or the pleasant surprise of a small weight loss (a root canal definitely takes the bite out of any appetite) before my last bridal gown fitting, but I really couldn’t recall the ordeal being that awful the first time.

Regardless, the mere mention of root canal traumatized me to the point of exceptional oral hygiene. True, four years of orthodontial experience (braces, headgear, etc.) as a pre-teen had laid the groundwork for my healthy tooth practices. But (and I’m not just saying this in case my brother-in-law is reading), I truly floss every day without fail since the original detection of a problem requiring root canal.

I mean, the last time I forgot to floss was the day I gave birth to Kyle — which, I might add, was the mental reference I used to get me through the second root canal.

“Hey, I’ve been through childbirth. I can handle another root canal,” I kept telling myself despite my profusely perspiring palms.

The first session with my endodontist lasted roughly 20 minutes. After those initial pinpricks, I can honestly say it was all pretty comfortable — save the rubber dam.

For those of you who haven’t had the pleasure of experiencing a root canal, a rubber dam is the apparatus that is placed in your open mouth (which, done properly, spreads your jaws to the approximate length of the Grand Canyon) to spare you from swallowing tooth dust, filling bits and pretty much any other airborne dental debris. It also helps you keep the gorge er, your mouth, from snapping shut on your endodontist’s hands.

Even the second meeting with my endodontist, which lasted considerably longer, wasn’t bad. The feeling that prompts you to go to the dentist and eventually require root canal is agony. The root canal itself is actually a godsend, as it eradicates all the pressure, pounding and pain.

When I got home from visit No. 2, I did a little digging of my own to determine exactly what was being done to my poor, put-upon tooth.

According to the American Dental Association’s website,, root canal is the treatment used to find and treat problems within the core of a tooth. This is the soft center known as dental pulp.

Sure, it sounds like orange innards or the middle of a Milky Way bar, but “pulp” or “soft center” as it relates to teeth, is really tissue containing nerves, blood vessels and connective tissue found inside and extending down from a tooth’s crown to the tip of the root in the jawbone.

Basically, a really deep cavity or a crack in the enamel of a tooth can allow bacteria to infect and sometimes even kill the pulp. Symptoms include extreme tooth sensitivity, pain in the teeth and jaws and the general feeling that your whole face will blow off the top of your head at any given moment — at least in my case.

“Why does this keep happening to me?” I asked through a mouth that felt as though it was protruding into the hallway — with flawed assistance from a tongue seemingly four sizes too big, no less.

“Well, Patty, there can be several reasons. Sometimes people who have deep roots are prone to problems …,” his voice trailed off and he gave me a sympathetic smile.

Couldn’t possibly be the five bags of Skittles and three packs of Twizzlers I eat every week, could it? Nah, it is definitely the roots.

Trust me, people, if someone tosses the word “root” your way; steer clear — unless maybe it’s an offer for a root beer float.

Root out Kimerer at

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