Why Root Canal Helps You Succeed Financially

The following guest post is from one of my favorite writers, Neal Frankle of Wealth Pilgrim. After reading the post, head over to Neal’s site and sign up for free to receive new articles.

It may be hard for you to see why root canal procedures and dentist games are something I’d write about.  Dental hygiene is, after all, a very private affair.

Maybe you’re thinking that I’m going to take “DO IT YOURSELF” articles to a new level.

Are you hoping I’m going to tell you how to save a fortune on dental care? “Just use a pair of pliers and a bottle of whisky next time you feel that twinge between tooth number 2 and number 3.”  No, that’s not where I’m going.

I learned (the very hard way) that successfully navigating a dental emergency is exactly the same as navigating a financial challenge.

Let me tell about the experience I had just a few days ago and how I think it can help you overcome your own painful challenges (dental…financial….whatever) if you ever have one.

The Set Up


On the Thursday night right before the long Labor Day Weekend I started feeling a sharp pain on the upper right side of my mouth.  I didn’t think much of it at the time even though I had never experienced that kind of pain before.  I just popped 3 Advil and felt relieved almost immediately.  All was well with the world.

I didn’t feel uncomfortable again until Friday night.  But the pain came back with a vengeance.  Even though the Advil remedied the situation, the hurt returned every few hours.  I couldn’t sleep or eat.  I was miserable.

If you’ve never experienced tooth pain, count yourself lucky.  I am sure that women who have given birth suffer much worse but for me, this was unbearable.

I was praying to the “dental deities” for relief.  I promised I’d never eat a piece of chocolate again if only the pain would be taken away.

The hurt found me & I found religion. But the pain waves kept rolling in.

My Go-To Solution Fails


I called my dentist on Friday night.  While I didn’t expect him to be there, I did expect to get some emergency service or number.

I was disappointed.

All I got was a recording telling me the office was closed.  Can you imagine how afraid I felt at that point?

I had no idea what to do or who to call.  I was in a real emergency situation and felt completely alone and isolated.


While I was indeed very angry with my (now former) dentist, I didn’t waste energy thinking about him.  I remained completely focused on finding a solution to my problem.

Reality Sets In


I started to understand that my odds of finding a dentist in town over the holiday were slim.  I felt doomed and truly frightened.

Considered All the Alternatives and Took Action


After calling a number of dentists in my area, I decided I’d wait it out until Tuesday – 72 hours of pure pain.

But before my final gasp of resignation, I thought about my friend Ed.

You know who Ed is, don’t you?

He’s Ed the Dentist.

At that point, Ed was my new favorite human being on the planet.  How could I have forgotten about Ed?

I immediately called him and told him about my problem.  Before you could say “canker sore” he took me down to his office, opened it up, took some x-rays and developed an action plan to solve my problem. Ed’s a saint.

The Pilgrim Gets Schooled


Ed asked me a bit about the care I’d received in the past and explained that part of my problem was that I was seeing the wrong kind of dentist.  My general dentist gave me a few root canal treatments and even though he had the qualifications to do it, he didn’t have the expertise.  Ed told me that I should have had that work done by a specialist who only does root canals in order to get the best possible outcome.

Of course, I could have had the problems I was having at the moment regardless of who I saw several years prior.  But Ed’s point was, why take the chance?

Ed explained the differences between oral surgeons, endodontists and general dentists.  While each can do the others’ jobs, specialists are better.  That all made sense to me.

The Solution


After Ed took the x-rays, he consulted with a few friends of his; a wonderful oral surgeon and a fantastic endodontist.  And in the end, the endodontist treated me.

She is a specialist and expert in her field. In fact, it turns out that she heads up the department of one of our country’s most prestigious dental schools. Luck was on my side.

As soon as I sat down in that wonderful dentist chair I felt safe. And when I heard the beautiful sound of that drill grinding away all my pain, I felt a tremendous sense of relief.

Dr. C made no promises.  While the treatment she prescribed had been 75% successful, there was still a significant chance that her treatment might fail and I’d end up with the oral surgeon.  I understood that and I was comfortable with the treatment we decided on.


So what has any of this got to do with you or your money?

Let’s go through it and see.

1. Consider the “Set Up”.

I didn’t infect my root canal.  I didn’t do anything to cause the problem.  And I certainly had no part in this problem manifesting itself right before the holiday.  It wasn’t my fault but it was my problem.


Are you dealing with a financial problem that you didn’t create?  Have you been laid off?  Have you encountered an unforeseen financial burden that has shifted your economic reality?  If so, it’s your responsibility to fix it…but it makes no sense to waste time or energy beating yourself up.


Even if I was to blame for my dental problem or you are to blame for your financial mess, don’t waste time throwing a pity party or a shame shower. Acknowledge the problem and move on.  You need all your energy to find the solution.

2. The Go-To solution fails.

Here’s an area I still need to work on.

You can bet your dental floss that I’m going to make sure that my new dentist (Ed of course) has an emergency contact number when he’s out of town.  Actually, I have his cell so it’s not a problem….but you get what I mean.

If you have a financial adviser, does she have a backup plan in case something happens to her?  Find out now.  Are you depending on your employer to create a job for you?  What if she goes out of business?  Do you have a “Plan B” just in case?  Have you considered opening your own side-business as an emergency replacement?

Think of all the people you rely on for your financial security.  Do you have a backup plan in case they are unable or unwilling to show up when you need them most?  If not, start working on it today.  The list would include your attorneys, accountants, financial advisers and insurance agents to name a few.

You don’t have to have backups for all these potential problems overnight.  But you should consider yourself warned as of today.  Don’t be complacent like I was. Make a list now and start putting your ducks in a row.

3. Reality sets in.

For me, I had to understand the seriousness of my situation and I had to be honest with myself.  I was in for a very long weekend and I had to make the best of it.  Nobody was going to “come make it better”.

Are you being completely honest about your financial situation?  Are you hoping that somebody is going to “come make it better” – as if by magic?

You know it’s not going to happen.


The only person who can make your situation better is you. Don’t sit around waiting or complaining about somebody else. You’ve got to take the bull by the horns….and the good news is…..you can.

4. Consider all the alternatives


I had to think of all the possible solutions to fix my pain problem as soon as possible.  Have you considered all the alternatives to fix the financial challenges you are dealing with? Have you taken the time to write it down on a piece of paper?  If not, let’s go ahead and do it right now.


List the issues you struggle with. Is it finding work?  Dealing with retirement income?  Helping your children get on their own two feet?  What exactly are the challenges you face?


List all the possible alternative solutions.

Think outside “the tooth”.

For example, if you are dealing with reduced retirement income, can you get a part-time job?  Can you reduce your spending? Move to a smaller home?  Take in renters?  Stop sending money to the kids?  What are all the alternatives?  Are you willing to consider each of them?

5. Educate Yourself

Before you take action, find out as much as you can about the real cause of the problem and the real meaning of the possible solutions.

I was ignorant.  I didn’t know it was so important to see a specialist.  I figured that if a dentist had the certification to perform a procedure, he or she would do a good job.  Also, I was referred to this dentist from a friend.  While that’s typically how we find professional service providers, it’s not enough.  Now I know better.  How about you?

If you need a trust, are you having a specialist do it? If not, you might be saving a few bucks now only to find yourself (or your estate) in hot water down the road.

Do you have the right team in place? Educate yourself.  Find out.  Take action.

6. The Solution.

Once you’ve gone through the steps mentioned above, pick the best solution.  If required, consult with friends or your accountability partner.  Bounce your ideas off of people you trust and respect but have faith in yourself to make the final choice.

Just like I had to accept the fact that my treatment might not work, I was convinced that it was the smartest approach to take at the time. I was 100% comfortable with the fact that my decision would be wrong 25% of the time.

Likewise, you will decide how to deal with the challenges you face and your solution may not work out. Don’t beat yourself up if that happens.  You can’t predict the future and you are not responsible for it either.

If you do the best you can after having done the most thorough investigation you can, let the result go and deal with the future as it unfolds.

In conclusion, it seems to me that the process I went through with my teeth mirrors what many people go through when they face financial difficulties.  Thinking back on similar experiences, have you gone through anything like this that you drew life lessons from?


  1. I can totally relate to the whole thing – I had a similar problem with a root canal that wasn’t done right, then had to go to the specialist who did what he could but said I needed surgery to fix it right so I went to the oral surgeon who told me he could help me for the same price as a down payment on a house (that was when I actually had insurance, too) but it would probably only help for about 3 years and would likely give me sinus problems for the rest of my life because of where the tooth is.

    So maybe I would add one more tip: Prevention if possible. Go to the dentist before you need a root canal, lol. Don’t put off those six month check ups like I did. Will save you way more money and grief later down the road.

  2. Neal, this is a good metaphor for finance.

    Your situation happening as it did just before the long Labor Day weekend was akin to your air conditioner breaking down the Friday before 4th of July weekend–which actually happened to me, so I can relate. (There was of course no pain in my episode, but you get the picture).

    I love your point that the disasters are not always our fault. That’s so important because we can waste so much time soul searching needlessly when we just need to accept it and deal with it.

    Good plug for the side business too!

  3. I loved the article – great writing! We can also use the financial term “diversify” in all aspects of our life for maximum security. In this case, your diverse set of friends and acquaintances is a network of professionals that can help you out in emergencies.

  4. Gretchen,

    You bring up a fascinating point. It does make sense to diversify our network. I think few of us would do so for the sole reason of tapping into them when we needed them….but it does make sense to be open to lots of different people. It’s a great way to learn and get out of our comfort zone.

    Oh….and as long as you’re going to diversify friends, it probably makes sense to have a dentist in the group! 🙂