A root canal is a laughing matter

So, your manicurist has sued your dentist for breach of promise?

Yes, and the case is to be fought tooth and nail.

Why did the tree visit the dentist’s office?

To get a root canal.

So why did the cheerleader visit the dentist’s office?

Uh, to get a root canal?

Are you both laughing and horrifyingly reaching for your mouth, an instinctive movement whenever someone mentions the word, dentist?

But teeth can be a laughing matter, as plenty of jokes prove. Today’s first joke comes from this newspaper but 100 years ago. The next two are common 21st century Internet fodder.

Here’s another from a half century ago and definitely close to home because baseball great Dizzy Dean spent his last days in the Mississippi Coast’s pineywoods community of Bond.

“My boys are going to get an education first and Paul Jr. is going to receive training to become a dentist. And, in the language of my brother-in-law (Dizzy Dean), that’s the tooth, the whole tooth and nothing but the tooth.”

The writer of this pun that appeared in this newspaper in 1955 signed herself as “Mrs. Paul Dean, whose husband was the other half of the famous pitching Dean brothers.”

Dental work brunt of joke

The poor, oft-maligned dentist! Few deserve the reputation that comedians and jokesters and retold, highly embellished tales of personal woe, give the professionals who help keep our teeth in our mouths.

In the 21st century we know this axiom to be true: Ignore your teeth and they will go away.

Enough with the jokes already! I’m recovering from a root canal. My first.

Truthfully, it didn’t hurt, either during or after the procedure. In fact, when the dentist was finished I asked, “Is that all there is to it? Why all the horror stories?”

Doc said he gets that question a lot. Maybe it’s because a long time ago dentists didn’t deaden your bad tooth to make sure they removed all the infected pulp. Your pain level was an indicator.

Dental Lesson 101

Pulp is a mixture of nerve tissue, blood vessels and other cellular stuff essential to keeping the tooth alive. When a tooth dies from trauma or perhaps infection it’s time for a root canal. The “root” isn’t a root in the normal sense but rather the hollow, thin chambers that provide a home for the pulp.

The crowing glory of it all

With the miracles of modern dentistry, infected pulp no longer means tooth extraction is a definite. The pulp chambers can be decontaminated and filled with miraculous modern substances, so if diagnosed soon enough with Xrays, the natural tooth can be saved with a root canal.

The next step is a tooth crown, which should lead to years of comfortable chewing with your capped natural tooth instead of learning to live with a bridge, implant or some other substitute. Isn’t modern dentistry miraculous?

Root history

My root digging — of the research variety — pulled out some interesting facts. Did you know, for example, that the first suspected root canal was more than 2,000 years ago?

In 1985 the New York Times reported that in Israel’s Negev Desert, archaeologists unearthed traces of an ancient toothache that sent “scholarly ripples through the world of dental history.” A 2,000 year old Nabataean soldier’s skull had a green-stained front tooth, and X-rays revealed a fine bronze wire inside the tooth’s nerve cavity, aka the canal.

Dental anthropologists believe it was inserted to deaden the tooth’s infected pulp. Fast forward to the late 17th century for better root canal techniques but still horribly painful. Then on to the late 20th century when treatments get better and less painful.

Joking calms dental jitters

The last two decades have witnessed great strides in the “art and science” of root canal therapy. Improvements in pain management, pulp extraction and imaging equipment are remarkable.

Thankfully, my mouth waited until this time to put me through the Root Canal Heeebie-jeebies. TV talk show host Johnny Carson once quipped, “There is only one phrase Americans fear more than ‘nuclear war’ and that phrase is ‘root canal.’ When an angry dentist sued sued Carson for numerous dental jokes, the New York judge told the dentist to lighten up.

So, I ask: Why did the dentist go to Panama?

To find the root canal.

Ha! Ha! Yes, I can laugh with my temporary crown in place.

Kat Bergeron, a veteran feature writer specializing in Gulf Coast history and sense of place, is retired from the Sun Herald. She writes the Mississippi Coast Chronicles column as a freelance correspondent. Reach her at or at Southern Possum Tales, P.O. Box 33, Barboursville VA 22923.