Helen K. Lester, DDS, FAGD, PC

Root Canals

“What? I need a root canal!” It seems those are the most dreaded words a patient can hear. While having a root canal is by no means enjoyable, it’s generally no different than any other dental procedure. Why is there such a stigma attached to those words “root canal”?

There are several reasons a tooth needs root canal therapy. Some of those include an infection (abscess) and/or acute sensitivity or pain. There are certainly exceptions to the generalizations I am making. My attempt is to dispel what I consider to be a myth.

Patients who regularly visit their dental office for checkups, cleanings and recommended treatment have fewer dental emergencies than those who don’t. This doesn’t mean they have fewer teeth needing root canal therapy. What it does mean is that the treatment is more routine and less emergent than those who visit the dentist with less frequency. The dentist is able to diagnose a problem before it becomes acutely painful or acutely infected. As you can imagine, it is far less eventful to have a tooth worked on when there is no swelling or acute pain. The presence of swelling makes it much more difficult to adequately anesthetize an area. When a person is experiencing intense pain it is far more difficult to achieve proper anesthesia. By not attending to the issue in a timely manner you are setting yourself, and the dentist up for a much more difficult time.

This is the basis for many of the stories we hear about how “horrible” a root canal can be. In general those stories come from people who are predisposed to having a much more difficult and painful experience. I will mention again, there are certainly exceptions to the generalizations I am making. It is human nature to complain. We talk about what a bad day we’ve had when it has been particularly rough. We share details about a car accident, a sickness or terrible weather conditions. Uneventful, healthy, fair weather days pass without a comment.

It is a minority we hear the loudest. Those who have the worst experiences shout the loudest. When was the last time you or a co-worker had a dental visit and returned to work saying, “Just got back from the dentist and it was fine”? We don’t do that. Because of this we remember the “horror” stories rather than the untold stories of the many patients who’ve had root canals that were just fine.

My purpose is not to chastise those who don’t routinely see the dentist. There are so many reasons of which most of us are aware some don’t frequent the dental office on an ideal basis. My purpose is solely to dispel the myth that root canals are horribly painful. In general they are no different than having a filling or a crown.


Bleaching is a topic I am commonly asked about. Does it work? Is it harmful? Will my teeth look like Chiclets? Yes, generally speaking it works. No, it’s not usually harmful and the result is pretty natural looking. The real question is, how long does it last? We are so eager to find a quick and easy fix to improve our appearance. Teeth whitening is similar to a haircut. Does your hair stay freshly cut after a few weeks? Probably not. Well, your teeth don’t stay as white as immediately after bleaching either. Upkeep is the key. Bleaching treatments performed in the dental office are a good way to boost the process and give a nice immediate result. Regardless of the system used, daily or weekly upkeep is necessary to maintain a brighter than natural color. Whether it’s a bleach pen or trays, fairly frequent upkeep is needed to maintain the initial level of white achieved by the in office treatment.

There are always exceptions to the initial questions posed. Is bleaching harmful and does it work? Bleaching can be harmful for someone with decay and/or poor home care. It also doesn’t always work on all teeth. One person’s teeth may lighten (or not) markedly different than the next. Teeth bleaching can be equated to tanning. You start with a certain color that predetermines your end result.

I hope this is helpful. Feel free to send ideas for topics and questions you might have!

New Year

A new year is always a good time to reflect on the past and plan for the future. This past year, I came to the realization that I am not able to reach my professional goals without the help of others.  I am so very fortunate to have colleagues, friends and employees who want to aid in this process. Writing a weekly ‘blog’ is one of these goals.

I tease with patients about the amount of information I impart. I often say, “No one leaves my office with questions about treatment to be done”. I discuss treatment recommendations, risks, and alternatives ad nauseam.  People are kind in responding with appreciation for the degree to which I communicate. A minority let me know it is overkill and they just don’t need all of the details. I appreciate when I can understand which personality I am dealing with. It is only over time I am able to learn how best each person learns and communicates.  While it is impossible for me to give just the right amount of information on every occasion, I do my best to give enough so that each person can make the right decision given their situation.  My ability to educate is directly related to a patients’ ability to make dental health decisions. I allow more time with each patient in my practice in order to facilitate this process. One of the great joys of my job is to learn about the people I care for.  Their lives, families, jobs and how they like to spend their time. The more I know about a person, the better I am able to help make the right dental health decision for them.