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Not your typical root canal

You won’t find a metallic arm with intense light dangling from the ceiling in Dr. Aaron McCann’s dental suites. Instead, there are high-definition TVs.

The “operatories” also lack spittoons. McCann and his dental assistants prefer suction devices.

“I don’t use any loops that your dentist might use, either,” he said. “Everything we do is 100 percent microscopic.”

If this sounds in any way comforting, it’s by design – even though this dental specialist only does root canals.

“The patient comes in and we get ’em numb and pop on the TV, and they can control Verizon,” McCann said. “Everything we’re doing is trying to make you as comfortable as we can. When a patient leaves and tells us, ‘This is not what I was expecting,’ that’s what we’re hoping for.”

McCann, 36, of Orchard Park, is an endodontist who earlier this year opened Precision Endodontics on Seneca Street in West Seneca.

The Orchard Park High School and University of Notre Dame alumnus set out on his own after four years with Buffalo Niagara Endodontics, which has offices in Williamsville and Niagara Falls. He wanted the office to be closer to his family, including his wife, Brigid – a pediatric dentist he married 10 years ago, two weeks after they both graduated from the University at Buffalo Dental School – and their three daughters, 6, 4 and 18 months.

General dentists refer patients to McCann when they suspect a decayed tooth can be saved by his skills, honed at UB and during internship, residency and fellowship training with the Sioux and Navajo Indian nations, Rochester General Hospital and at Long Beach Veterans Hospital in Southern California.

The root canal process, which costs about $1,000, starts when a patient’s chin is tucked onto the holster of a CareStream diagnostic CT machine that can take a 3-D image of a tooth. If the tooth looks salvageable, McCann begins what he described as “microscopic plumbing.” With help from two dental assistants, he removes decay from pipelike roots that helped grow teeth in childhood but serve a more limited role in adulthood. Once cleared, McCann disinfects and fills the root with a natural rubber material to prevent further infection.

Meanwhile, patients can watch TV or listen to their choice of music from a wireless system. The office computer system and software also allows McCann to show patients the damaged tooth, as well as watch a video of the root canal procedure as it progresses.

“I get to be Rick Jeanneret, so I give you play-by-play the whole time,” he said. “We can do a lot of patient education as we’re going and show you what we’re doing, which is the fun part.”

A few weeks later, a general dentist can continue to preserve the tooth by adding a crown.

Q. You decided pretty early you wanted to be a dentist. Why?

My father (Tom McCann) is a general dentist in South Buffalo. I always wanted to do something science-related and I liked the style that he had as a dentist. He wasn’t on call a lot and he always seemed to be in control of more of his practice. And to me, I like dentistry because someone can come in with a problem and I can fix it.

Q. What were the three best things about attending Notre Dame?

Football weekends. There isn’t anything better than a football weekend at Notre Dame. The campus is beautiful, old brick buildings, really picturesque, and they really strive to keep everyone on campus so it’s a really fun atmosphere. All day, there are people playing sports in the quads. There’s always stuff going on. And most of the student population is very well-rounded. There’s lots of intramural sports and every type of activity you can imagine.

Q. I hear from more and more dentists that oral health is a window into your overall health. How does that play on a Native American territory?

Diabetes, obesity and periodontal disease are all inflammatory-causing diseases and can cause different systemic issues. If you have a patient who has uncontrolled diabetes, you might notice that they’re oral health is poorer as well.

Q. Can you talk abou the difference between a general dentist, orthodontist and endodontist?

All dentists do four years of dental school and you graduate as a general dentist. In the state of New York, in order to get a license, you have to do a residency, so you can do a one-year residency and you would still be a general dentist or you can do a two- or three-year residency to become a specialist. I did the one-year residency and two years after that specifically in endodontics, which is root canals and root canal surgeries. I did the last two years at Long Beach Veterans Hospital in California.

Q. How does the conversation go when you have a lot of tooth decay in one tooth and you have to decide whether to remove or save it?

The biggest determinants are is there enough tooth structure left and are your gums healthy enough to allow you to retain the tooth in a healthy way for years to come? If I’m looking at a tooth and I don’t think the tooth is going to give you very much time whether we do a root canal or not, then it’s probably not the best option to save it.

Q. What is the difference between a surgical and nonsurgical root canal?

If we’re doing a regular root canal, we’re coming from the crown of your tooth – the chewing surface – and we go down. With a surgical approach, called an apicoectomy, because we’re removing the apex of the tooth, we make an incision in your gums, move the gums out of the way and come from the side of the tooth and your jaw. Most of the time we’re doing that because someone has an abscess or has bone loss or swelling. We’re able to go right where that area is and remove the last couple millimeters of the tooth and all of the infected tissue that shouldn’t be in your jaw. ... A lot of the work we do here is redoing root canals. Success rates are 90 percent or better but sometimes they don’t work.

Q. Have you ever had to go through a root canal?

I haven’t. I’ve cracked a tooth eating Nick Charlap’s cinnamon ice cream: tooth number 15, upper left, all the way in the back. I’ll never forget it. Like all my patients, I put the dental work off for a few months until it hurt more. I have a gold crown on it. I’ll probably need a root canal on it at some point.

Q. Who are some of the popular musical groups people ask for during procedures?

Country is real popular. After the Motown musical was up at Shea’s, we started doing Motown Mondays, which was kind of fun. We get a lot of classical asks. Every once in a while, we have people ask for hard rock. If that’s what they like, that’s all right.

Q. What advice would you give to people to try to stay out of your office?

Make sure you see your dentist for yearly checkups and cleanings. Make sure you’re using a fluoride toothpaste, and brushing and flossing every day. And it really starts when you’re a kid, with your pediatric dentist and your general dentist. A lot of the work we do is on teeth that had cavities when our patients were children. It’s harder to keep a tooth with a filling healthy than a natural tooth.