President Obama’s “as popular as a root canal” Comment Unpopular

On Wednesday night, President Obama gave his first State of the Union Address. Obama’s only mention of dentistry came in a quip about the bank bailout. He equated the bank bailout to a root canal and the remark was followed by audience laughter. The exact portion of the transcrip, according to CNN, follows

Our most urgent — our most urgent task upon taking office was to shore up the same banks that helped cause this crisis. It was not easy to do. And if there’s one thing that has unified Democrats and Republicans — and everybody in between — it’s that we all hated the bank bailout. I hated it.


I hated it. I hated it. You hated it. It was about as popular as a root canal.


One group that wasn’t laughing at this remark is the American Association of Endodontists. Members of this organization were bothered by Obama’s use of a common comparison that has plagued their profession for ages. Coupled with the negativity of his explanation of the bank bailout, this part of the speech did not sit well with endodontists. The AAE quickly formulated a press release and sent word to the White House that this remark was unsettling to a large population of dental specialists. Read the press release here.

As dental students, and some of you may be future endodontists, were you angered by Obama’s remark? What alternative comparison could he have chosen? Or is this something that the profession needs to let go? There will always be the expression “it’s like pulling teeth,” no matter how advanced or painless extractions become. Unless endodontists fashion root canal procedures with a new name, the conotation will probably remain. Dental procedures are not often thought of as comfortable or pleasant and dentists will most likely battle public opinion for a long time. Obama used this to make joke. But the fact remains that dental procedures are  meant to relieve pain, not cause it. Was Obama right or wrong to call out root canals as unpopular?

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Comments (11)

  1. Siara

    I think people just need to relax. Did Obama say anything that was untrue? As far as I know, I’ve never heard of anyone who wanted to have root canal therapy. I’d be surprised if there was ever a patient who said, “I came in for teeth whitening, but I think I’d rather have some root canals today! Yeah!” People are hypercritical and need to stop looking for things to get upset about.

  2. Lindsey K

    I am constantly stressing the importance of oral hygiene to my patients so they can avoid major dental procedures such as a root canal for precisely that reason…root canals AREN’T fun. To be completely trite and contemporary: Let’s call a spade a spade, and everybody take a chill pill.

    On a side note, does anyone know if Obama is speaking from personal experience…

  3. Richard Carlile

    I thought it was funny that the AAE came out with a statement after the comment was made.

  4. saynono

    Nothing like a really “fun” root canal where Sargenti Paste is used. Shame on the ADA, AAE, FDA and state dental boards for not telling patients about this dangerous material.

  5. Little Neck Dentist

    I believe you’ve provided some beneficial data. I’d really like to understand more and I’ll continue to keep checking back as often as possible. 🙂

  6. Nate Swanson, DDS

    I think the comparison was accurate! You’ll note he did not say “About as FUN as a root canal” or “about as PAINful as a root canal.” But as POPULAR.

    I don’t care how comfortable it is, how necessary, how important, etc etc, almost anyone has something they’d rather be doing.

    Also, compared to the bailout, it’s not far off: Necessary, costly, possibly uncomfortable, mysteriously technical and annoying to those enduring the process, at best. all accurate.

    We ALL spend a bunch of time rolling our eyes at public perceptions:

    “I hate dentists…. nothing personal!”
    yeah, that’s cool….no offense taken….

    “You know you guys have the highest suicide rate??”
    actually, we were surpassed by attorneys years ago….

    “I’m allergic to novacaine!!”
    right… oh, btw, it’s neither an allergy or novacaine you had a reaction to…..

    “I have TMJ!”
    yep, that’s like old folks w/ arthritis saying, “I have hip.” nice.

    etc etc. so i think the Acad of Endo needs to lighten up. It goes w/ the territory. it’s not like they aren’t (and we all aren’t!) well-compensated for the irritation.

    cheers! great site.


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