Root Canal Work


Lots to reflect on after some time in China and Japan – not least how much I enjoyed it. Normally, in my past, being jetlagged and on display from morning till night would have seemed as much fun as the proverbial ‘root canal work’.

Facing myriad ‘state visits’, handshakes, speeches, staff talks and formal lunches and dinners, the curious discovery was – with few deep breaths and some positive thinking – it all went fine. And in fact, I really enjoyed it.

Talking to an interesting chap this week, he pointed out that, physiologically, the sensations of anxiety are pretty much indistinguishable from those of excitement. All that’s different is the mental picture.

Bungee jump = Excitement

Standing too close to a cliff edge = Anxiety.

I was back in the dentist’s chair for my actual root canal work yesterday. Injections, a clamp, a rubber sheet over my mouth, drills, cement, industrial disinfectant dribbling down my throat, UV, x-rays, smoke, fumes, thumbs, pins and screws.

The fear of pain put this in the ‘anxiety’ not the ‘excitement’ category. But every time I remembered to adjust my mental state, to breathe and to separate the physiological from the mental, it wasn’t half as bad.

Nobody wants a dull life. So realising anxiety and excitement are just two sides of the same physical coin is a good discovery – once again, the picture in the mind makes a very big difference to how it all feels.

Doh! Ow! Oh?


Like many men of my age, my general attitude to a health problem is ‘best ignore it’. Of course I periodically moan, but then refuse to get anything seen to and hope it will go away – nearly cost me dear that 20 years ago.

And it is going to cost me again, as I absorb the X-rays of my thoroughly impacted wisdom tooth. Having ignored it, complained about it and recently attacked it with a camping spoon, it has now got the better of me – two teeth to come out, root canal work on a third to hopefully save it and up to £2000 without passing Go.

I asked the dentist whether he could just pull them out and do me a George Washington wooden set. He felt not.

And what I’ve felt subsequently is interesting too… because now I’ve seen an X-ray, my subjective feeling of pain has changed. Now my brain has a picture of the problem, I feel it much more – and in a completely different place.

It used to really only hurt at 3am at night, when it often woke me up. I thought it was a nightly push from the wisdom tooth to get out. Turns out it’s just the nightly drop in cortisol of a healthy circadian rhythm – cortisol falls, the immune system kicks in and the pain kicks off. It still hurts at 3am but I realise it’s not one pushing, it’s another one throbbing.

What was – in my mind – the surging pressure of a wisdom tooth, with an battling desire to burst through, is now correctly identified as just the morbid cry of its near mortally wounded neighbour. Broken, damaged perhaps beyond repair – less George Washington more General Custer.

Three reflections arise. One, doh! Why didn’t I go get this fixed sooner. Two, ow! Pain. Three, oh? So that’s the explanation – and mind and body seamlessly recombine with a different mental picture and a different felt reality; no periodic ‘pressure’ just steady dull pain. Our senses can deceive us. The mind makes up its own mind.