In Defense of Root Canal

Comparing TARP to root canal is profoundly unfair — to root canal.

In one of the best lines of the night, President Obama described TARP as “about as popular as root canal.”  I think that this is deeply unfair to root canal.

I had one about a year ago, on one of my back teeth.  It really wasn’t a big deal, and it’s not as if my pain threshold is particularly high.  They numb you up and go ahead.  I slept through it, and I only had a local anesthetic.

I was amazed and asked the endodontist whether this represented some new technological advance.  “No,” he said.  “These kinds of numbing agents have been around for years.”  If that’s true, then a lot of dentists who don’t use them have a hell of a lot to answer for.

Idea of the Day: Maybe we should put the bank executives through root canal without the anesthetic?

Author: Jonathan Zasloff

Jonathan Zasloff teaches Torts, Land Use, Environmental Law, Comparative Urban Planning Law, Legal History, and Public Policy Clinic - Land Use, the Environment and Local Government. He grew up and still lives in the San Fernando Valley, about which he remains immensely proud (to the mystification of his friends and colleagues). After graduating from Yale Law School, and while clerking for a federal appeals court judge in Boston, he decided to return to Los Angeles shortly after the January 1994 Northridge earthquake, reasoning that he would gladly risk tremors in order to avoid the average New England wind chill temperature of negative 55 degrees. Professor Zasloff has a keen interest in world politics; he holds a PhD in the history of American foreign policy from Harvard and an M.Phil. in International Relations from Cambridge University. Much of his recent work concerns the influence of lawyers and legalism in US external relations, and has published articles on these subjects in the New York University Law Review and the Yale Law Journal. More generally, his recent interests focus on the response of public institutions to social problems, and the role of ideology in framing policy responses. Professor Zasloff has long been active in state and local politics and policy. He recently co-authored an article discussing the relationship of Proposition 13 (California's landmark tax limitation initiative) and school finance reform, and served for several years as a senior policy advisor to the Speaker of California Assembly. His practice background reflects these interests: for two years, he represented welfare recipients attempting to obtain child care benefits and microbusinesses in low income areas. He then practiced for two more years at one of Los Angeles' leading public interest environmental and land use firms, challenging poorly planned development and working to expand the network of the city's urban park system. He currently serves as a member of the boards of the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy (a state agency charged with purchasing and protecting open space), the Los Angeles Center for Law and Justice (the leading legal service firm for low-income clients in east Los Angeles), and Friends of Israel's Environment. Professor Zasloff's other major activity consists in explaining the Triangle Offense to his very patient wife, Kathy.

6 thoughts on “In Defense of Root Canal”

  1. Different dental plans have differing levels at which they cover things like anesthetic. All of them cover some basic level for a root canal (so far as I know), but that doesn't mean the basic level is as good as you got. I had a wisdom tooth removed under local and while it didn't hurt, I certainly couldn't have slept through it.

  2. I have had two root canals and in both cases proved unusually resistant to anaesthetic, which means that while I was never really hurt, I was constantly afraid that I would be. I also find drilling in my teeth deeply unpleasant. Also, modern root canals are done with electric drills, so they take an hour or two. The one I had in 1993 used tiny files, meaning it took several visits of a couple hours apiece. The cultural memory lingers.

  3. In my case it didn't hurt a bit, but there was a horrific burnt smell. I'd take somebody else's pain to forget that smell.

  4. I've had more root canals than I can count, and they were all completely painless. If I had any pain, I asked for more novocaine, and got it. Simple. If they had wanted to bill me for the extra novocaine, I would have paid for it, but I suspect the cost of a little it more is so low as to not make it worth it.

  5. I have also had a number of root canals. In one case, the sheer manipulation of the tooth for the length of the procedure made it very painful afterward (imagine somebody grabbing your tooth and wriggling it by hand for an hour).

    But the biggest factor I found from recent oral surgery is that it's far easier to numb the lower jaw than the upper jaw. The lower jaw nerves come in at one place on each side; an injection there does a lot of good. In the upper jaw, there are more nerves coming in from different angles, and more blood supply (to wash out the anesthetic).

    In the end, if you suspect that the novocaine is wearing off, ask the dentist for another shot before the actual pain starts.

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