Five Songs For Your Root Canal

I might be the only person I know that enjoys getting a root canal.

Do not get me wrong, nothing about the actual dentistry turns me on, but knowing that for about an hour I cannot do anything other than sit in a chair and not talk is like a vacation from the world; and myself for that matter.

I viscerally hated going to the dentist. The smell walking into the waiting room would have my stomach churning. I learned, however, that breathing in some nitrous oxide and rocking some mind expanding jams was what I needed to make my visit an experience and not a pain.

I have prepared for you a how-to of what you will need and what to expect, so your experience can be as wonderful as mine.

I must add that I went a number of years, 10 or so, without a trip to the dentist, so they had some work to do once they got back in there. From multiple root canals, extractions, gum scrapings, cleanings and everything in between, I knew that I had to find a way to get through this horrific, multi-year escapade.

I found my answer in an iPod and some nitrous. The hours spent in the chair have not only been bearable, but something I now look forward to.

First thing you will need to know is how to negotiate for just the right amount of nitrous oxide.

You are going to want more than what they initially set you up with.

Frame it up early about how nervous you are. Clench your fists, grit your teeth (assuming that your mouth is not already filled with bullshit), have a little trouble catching your breath and then ask the hygienist, politely but firmly, that you would like the gas turned up. Then as she is fiddling with the tank, raise the index finger on your right hand and extend your arm upwards towards the sky numerous times, this will get your point across that you, “need more gas!”

This is where you hit play on your iPod and this is where you start taking as many deep breaths as you can. Get that nitrous oxide in your lungs and, more importantly, in your brain. I know what you are thinking, “Kermit, what music should accompany me on my journey?”

You want to ease into it, but the nitrous works quickly, so you want something that gets weird quick.

1. Miles Runs the Voodoo Down, Miles Davis from the album Bitches Brew.

I have experimented a lot with the first song. It is through trial and error, but I truly feel that this song is perfect! A nice subtle bass and drum intro with a nice introduction of guitar pretty quickly and then as you take your fourth deep gulp of nitrous, boom, Miles’ horn pierces your soul. Then it is pure joy from then on out.

Bitches Brew is easily one of my favorite records of all time, so there is a comfort that I feel when listening to any of the tracks, but Miles Runs the Voodoo Down is my favorite journey. At its most cacophonous, I feel a tremendous amount of anxiety, an anxiety that forces my clouded brain to pick it all apart and try to understand it, but as the song breaks down and less instruments fight for your attention, a calm comes over me, a relief, but within seconds it is ramping up again and I am transfixed with how it is all working together.

I realized that I needed something to get my focus off of what they were doing in my mouth. The anxiety I felt going to the dentist was transferred to the song.

In 14 minutes, Miles Davis and his band allowed me to not care that torturous acts were being committed in mouth, but had me wondering, “were two bass players really needed on this track?”

2. Zombie, Fela Kuti from his album Zombie.

Probably the most popular Afro-beat song ever, Zombie is so propulsive, so rich with huge horns, and transcendent chanting vocals that the dentist could pull out a chainsaw and you would probably think, “I am sure that chainsaw has been properly sterilized.”

That chainsaw sadly is just the dentist’s drill, but that’s why during this middle section of the procedure, you want a loud, full sound and Fela Kuti and his band muster up a jam that sounds like it was recorded on another planet. Zombie chugs along at a breakneck pace for nearly 12 minutes, ending with a solo saxophone and the delicious final orchestral chord of finality.

3. Sister Ray, The Velvet Underground from their album White Light/White Heat.

This song is so dirty, noisy and raw that it is the perfect soundtrack to cover up and go along with that terrible sound of the drill chewing away at the inside of your tooth.

Thudding and trudging for 17 minutes, I lose myself in the simple and wonderfully fuzzed-out organ of Mr. John Cale. I cannot get enough of this song when I hear it sober, but when you add fuzzy organ together with fuzzy brain it does truly “take me for a ride, ride.” I do quietly hope that my dentist can hit it “sideways,” but really, at this point anyway, I do not care.

I only care what Sister Ray said.

With the noisy dentistry done we can now let the temporary cap fitting begin and with that comes some more light-hearted, but yet still mind-expanding music.

4. Love In Them There Hills, The Pointer Sisters from their album That’s a Plenty.

This song completely rips! It’s a funky groove with analog synth, vocal percussion with a breakdown and build-up that will take any feeling of euphoria to the next level. If you are not familiar with the 70s releases of the Pointer Sisters and you only think of them as that group that did the Neutron Dance, please get to Spotify right now! This piece of music is eight minutes of undeniable radness.

5. Good Vibrations, The Beach Boys, released originally as a single.

The dentist or the hygienist will tap you on the shoulder and this sadly will pull you out of your psychedelic trance. This is when they turn off the nitrous and blast you with the oxygen. It is now time to check back into reality, but I want my re-entry to feel like the tickle of a feather rather than a punch to the face and there is no better song than Good Vibrations.

The gorgeous vocal, the rich instrumentation, and that Theremin hovering like an alien space craft, it inspires truth, beauty, wonderment… and a healthy smile!


Let’s not be scared, or think the trip to the dentist as an imposition or a waste of time. Think of your time at the dentist’s office as a trip to a place where the possibilities are endless, one where there is no linear time, merely moments connected by a soundtrack that allows you to truly be free.



Kermit Carter is a storyteller, musician, writer, and entertainment booker from Minnesota, USA. He can be contacted at


Photo Courtesy of EverettCollection/