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4 Words to Say to Someone Who Has to Get a Root Canal

Teeth, teeth, teeth. Photo: MirageC/Getty Images

I recently underwent a root canal. I know. This information is none of your business, and please respect my privacy by forgetting it immediately, but the admission of the root canal is necessary in order for me to convince you that I know what’s best in this situation, by which I mean the situation of someone else getting a root canal. Let me tell you what to say to that person.

In the week leading up to my root canal (a life event about which you have already forgotten), I would inform whomever I was talking to about the fact of my upcoming dental terror. This was to garner sympathy and to, I hoped, receive some gentle words of encouragement, and also special treatment. Other people have gotten root canals, I thought, and surely the procedure mustn’t be as terrible as it seems, particularly when you’re viewing it in the rearview. Yes? No. Instead, this is the face I got in return every time I told someone:

“Yeah, I had to get a root canal once…,” people would say while making the face. “Oh, that sounds painful…,” people who had not suffered the Saw-like indignity of a root canal would say, with the face. “Oh, Kelly…” multiple people said to me in a Slack room where I couldn’t see their faces, but I think you’d agree that the face was implied.

This is not what to say to someone who has to get a root canal.

The terrible thing about teeth is that when they’re messed up, you have to fix them the excruciating way, because the excruciating way is the only way. It is terrible. Why do teeth exist? They should be better than they are, but instead they are terrible, and I hate them so much. (I love my dentist, however; he is very nice and you may contact me for his website.)

Because there’s no getting around it, I see no reason to honestly confront the full fact of the terror in the days leading up to a dental procedure or, more broadly, something else terrible that there’s no getting around, like an eventual coffee with an acquaintance. This is unhelpful. When you have to do something bad, the laser-focused dread leading up to it can sometimes be worse than the actual thing of it, and when it’s not worse, it’s at least second-worst. And it’s hardly a consolation if the dread pays off when going through the actual thing of it. “At least it was exactly as bad as I was always worried it was going to be.” Nah-uh.

In this way, the four words you should say to someone who has to get a root canal can be applied more broadly. Their truthfulness will vary, as it does depending on whom it’s coming from in the case of the root canal. Because I’m not sure how comfortable you are with telling someone something that could be considered a considerate lie, I’ve thought up some other options for what to say when someone is going to get a root canal, all of which are technically true:

1. That will be an exciting new life experience to have had.
What is life but a collection of experiences? And once it’s done, this will certainly have been one of them.

2. At least you don’t have to PERFORM the root canal.
That would be much worse. I wouldn’t even know where to begin.

3. It’ll be so nice to not have to worry about the root canal being in your future, once it’s in your past.
That’s just true.

4. So many people get root canals.
When I get nervous about driving I like to think, “So many people drive.” If it’s a thing that so many people do, probably you can do it too. Yes? I also like to think, “At least I’m driving in the direction all the other cars are driving, and not in the direction of oncoming traffic,” which is actually quite relaxing but I’m not sure how it relates to root canals.

5. At least you don’t have to get two root canals.
Unless the person does, in which case you say three.

6. Oh please, it’s not like you have to give birth.
This only works if you’ve given birth, but then I bet it really works.

Now, are you ready for the four words you should say to someone who has to get a root canal? I promise you they are correct, at least in the sense that they are the correct thing to say in this situation, though if you ask me they are mostly just plainly correct in every sense. Ready? Not, “I had to get a root canal once,” but you’re making the face. Not, “Oh, that’s going to be painful.” Not, “Oh no, I’m so sorry.” Not, “Eeeeeeeeeeek, I mean no, no I’m sure it’ll go fine,” but also you’re still making the face. Instead here they are, finally, the words you should say:

Ready? …

Okay, here they are …

“They’re not that bad.”

Oh, root canals? They’re not that bad. :)

4 Words to Say to Someone Who Has to Get a Root Canal