Several months ago, I began to notice that something was wrong with one of my teeth. I experienced a little pain here and there, but mostly aggravation because it just didn’t feel right and food kept getting lodged in a new space that wasn’t there before.
Like most people do, I procrastinated going to the dentist to avoid the pain, the cost, taking time away from work, etc. Even though I knew better, I figured if I just ignored it, it would repair itself. Joke is on me, right? I finally made that appointment for Dr. Ellis to investigate the problem and then waited with anticipation as that date on the calendar approached.
As I entered the dental office with dread, I prayed that it would be something minor that could be repaired that day. I knew I would probably need a crown, so I was prepared for that as the highly skilled and proficient staff began to work their magic to repair the problem tooth. After poking and prodding around in my mouth, Dr. Ellis, in the sweetest way possible, said the problem was much deeper than originally anticipated. We were going to try to avoid it, but it was likely that I would need a root canal.
Now, if you have ever had a root canal, you know very well the groan that escaped my lips as he said those words. “Oh no, how much is this going to cost?” And then my memory from root canals in the past kicked in. Oh, the horror!
Trepidation filled my mind as it raced to think of ways that this awful procedure could be avoided. To make it worse, I watched a YouTube video of a root canal so I could be educated on exactly what would be happening to me in the coming days. Little tiny instruments are used to invade the roots of my tooth and the nerve pulp is ripped out, never to feel pain again. Sounds delightful, doesn’t it?
I could have chosen to continue to live in fear and ignore my tooth problem, but what would have happened if I had done that? I could have turned to drinking alcohol or taking narcotics to help mask the pain, but the root of the problem would have still been there. The pain would have gotten worse, infection would have set in, and eventually I would have lost that tooth — or possibly worse. Instead, I went to a professional who knew exactly what to do to help me alleviate the discomfort I was feeling. The procedure of the root canal would not be pleasant, but Dr. Ellis and his staff would make it as comfortable as possible. The recovery process would not be painless, but I knew that he was there if I needed him while I healed. I did not have to fix that tooth alone or live with pain forever.
Finally, the day came and I lay back in Dr. Ellis’ chair and submitted my consciousness to the laughing gas and anesthesia. (I have found that I do some of my best reflection about life while breathing in nitrous oxide! Just kidding, of course – don’t try that at home!) As I lay there waiting for my jaw to go numb, I began to think about how much my job as a therapist is like Dr. Ellis’ profession as a dentist. People come to us when they are in pain and want us to do something about it. The pain may be of a different nature, but they both have something in common. There is always a root cause. Some issues may not be as deep as others, but pain is pain and we want it to stop.
Emotional pain is exactly the same as physical pain.
There is always a root issue that causes us to live in fear or struggle with depression and anxiety. The root may be anchored very deep. People tend to ignore the pain and hope it will go away, or self-medicate with drugs or alcohol so that the agony is not felt as often. We know if we talk about it, it will sting and be distressing to our emotions. So we avoid it, only to have the pain intensify as time goes on.
Continuing to live in anguish only causes other problems in your life to grow and fester. Your friends and family are affected by your pain, and you are not able to be the best you can be as long as your roots are damaged. I urge you, if you are struggling or hurting emotionally, find someone to talk to about it. Employ a professional who can help rid you of the toxicity of situations that continue to produce discomfort. The process may be painful, but it is worth it in the end to purge the infection from your mind once and for all.
As for me, my tooth is as good as new thanks to Dr. Ellis and the wonderful group of people in his clinic. Yes, it cost my bank account, but I knew I would be getting the best care possible, so it was worth it. The process hurt at times, but I had to go through the pain in order to heal from the inside out.
I can now carry on with life without having that nagging aggravation constantly reminding me that something was wrong in my mouth. And just for the record, root canals aren’t all that bad! I am a drama queen. But stay away from YouTube until after you have the procedure!
Dr. Rhonda Smith is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker at South Central Regional Medical Center. Email her at