Your temperament's wrong for the priesthood

It's common wisdom among expatriates in Japan that you should "go home" for any major surgery or dental work. I don't know if it's based on actual statistically significant differences in quality, or what, but whatever -- I ain't down with that. Stand by your Japan, I say. And so when for the first time in my life I got a persistent toothache late last year, I, uh... ignored it for months, hoping it would go away. But when this shamanistic ritual proved ineffective, I took it to a Japanese dentist and hoped for the best.

Last month I went for the preliminary investigation. I had one real nasty-looking cavity, and two minor ones. You know, like Shredder, Rocksteady and Be-Bop. Today I went in to get Shredder drilled. First drilling ever. But... it wasn't so bad. Morphine eased the pain. Even the vibration and noise was bearable. Looks like all that experimental music listening (through headphones, no less) paid off!

Then she stopped and said "Hmm... hold on," and walked away. She came back with a spiral-bound book of dental diagrams. It was open to a page depicting a tooth with an evil brown abyss leading right down the root and out into the gum, where there was some sort of colony shaped like a ball of string.

"This is what your tooth is like," she said, and my final hopes died. "If you want to fix it properly, I'm going to have to drill deeper."

Yeah, like all the way down to my chest. But hey, my fault for letting it ride so long.

"So will this be a, uh..." -- and then I realised I didn't know the Japanese for "root canal". So I switched to English. "... a 'root canal'?"

She looked puzzled. "A what?"

"A root canal. Uh... you know, it's when..." But then it hit me -- I didn't even know what a root canal was. I only knew it as a punchline, shorthand for "lengthy and painful dental work". So I couldn't even explain it to her in simpler terms, unless I said something like "you know, that dental procedure that everyone hates most of all?", and that would just sound whiny. I was stuck.

"So, it's OK if I drill and get all this out?" she said.

"Yeah," I said. "Go crazy." And she did.

Later, in the waiting room waiting for my turn to pay, I tried to look up "root canal", but it wasn't in my dictionary. So when I got home I went and found this page of Japanese dental terms (hi Google), where I learned that:

  1. "Root canal" in Japanese is 根管 (konkan -- a calque, I assume).
  2. But even in English, "root canal" technically just refers to the naturally-occuring canals in the tooth's root that nerves lie within.
  3. So I really need to ask if this is a "root canal filling", which is 根管充填 (konkan juuten)
  4. But, I had guessed correctly. I am currently halfway through a root canal.

Popularity factor: 10


It depends on the dentist, not the country. I had a bad dentist back "home" who did many stupid things, but my guy in Tokyo is great (and he has lasers for no-pain surgery). I actually look forward to my visits.


〽"... And teaching would suit you still less ..."

So, is the root-canal experience as unpleasant as comedians have led us to believe? You have my commiserations.

-- Tim May


Oh poor Matt-- you should've known that toothache won't go away.

Wish you a quick recovery.


Oh man. I used the same shamanistic techniques as you for years and years, and then I was dragged to a dentist and paid the price. Now I floss every damn day, yup, and brush too, and pray that my early sins will not be held against me and I will not be gumming mush in a few years.



Thanks, everyone!

Lasers?! Awesome! I'd look forward to that too. (And yeah, my dentist seems good so far, too. Much better than my last dentist in Australia, for reasons too gross to get into.)

I have to say it didn't really _hurt_ at all. I teared up a little at the sting from one of the anaesthetic injections, but the drilling itself was fine, and it didn't even ache afterwards when the pain-killers wore off. I guess that means she got every last nerve?

But the sensation of having your teeth, which you don't get any more of, ground away by high-speed machinery -- well, even if it doesn't hurt, it's not fun.

(Plus, maybe the REALLY painful part is the permanent filling and crown, which is yet to come..)


...Son, be a den-tist,You'll be a success!


I'm tempted to make all of my post titles musical lyrics from now on.


Be not afraid. Japanese dentists are the best.None of it will hurt.


The painful part is NOT going to the dentist.


Root canal, ouch! Good luck!

Flossing is the best dental insurance. I truly believe that.

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