Having a Root Canal in Honduras

Today I had my first root canal and this is what it felt like.

First, I went to a wonderful dentist who took out my old filling and gave me an x-ray. She told me that I’d need to see a specialist to have a root canal, so she gave me a temporary filling and sent me home to have lunch. I asked her if my interdental brushing or flossing had caused the problem with the filling, and she said that over time the mercury (amalgama in Spanish) expands, making the filling bigger, and so by pulling with the floss I might have loosened it a tiny bit, allowing the tooth decay to reach close enough to the root to require it to be removed. I thought “That’s it. I’m never brushing my teeth again!”.

She called again a few hours later to say that the specialist could come in an hour, so off I went again. The specialist arrived and was very kind and friendly. She took out the temporary filling, and started poking my tooth extensively with various needles that she seemed to be screwing in and out.

I realised that the main problem with going to the dentist in Spanish is that once a person is wearing a mask to cover their mouth, it’s much more difficult to understand them, which we don’t always appreciate with our native language. Another thing was that there were two dental chairs in the room, with two young dentist ladies drilling away happily, meaning that the extra noise was another factor which made life more difficult for me.

My job was basically to wait patiently until it hurt, wherein she could inject INTO my tooth with an anaesthetic, putting the nerve to sleep before yanking it out piece by piece. Sometimes she pulled out big bits but mostly they were small. Then she took x-rays. Then she compared all of the x-rays that she had taken. As she did this, I thought about all the times when I had gone to bed without brushing my teeth, vaguely thinking “I’m probably going to regret this at the dentist one day”. I was right!

Normally, the procedure is done in two sittings, but I asked for it to be done in one, although in the end the dentist seemed tired and I didn’t want her to make a mistake through being overtired from her delicate yet at times strenuous work. She patched me up with another temporary filling, telling me to take painkillers, antibiotics, and drink plenty of fluids so she could finish up tomorrow. 

As she worked on my tooth, I thought about all the people who can’t afford dental work, and I considered myself very lucky to be in so much discomfort. The clinic that I went to serves the whole neighborhood, even those who can’t pay. I asked her if she gave treatment for free because she was a Christian, but she just smiled. She explained that the people from the bordo ( probably translates as “slum” in English) mainly come in for extractions, and that she has so many clients who can afford to pay (sometimes by installments) that she doesn’t need to charge the one’s who can’t. She explained that she thought that Honduras was a strange country because the government doesn’t try to help the poor. I was impressed by her simple, humble altruism, as much as I was impressed by a lady I met who came here a few weeks ago. She was an american, and a qualified dentist, and she had PAID with HER OWN MONEY to come here to work FOR FREE. It’s meeting every day heroes like these two ladies that gives me hope that there is more good in the world than the media lead us to believe.


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