Corrected on 2/19/08: An earlier version of this article incorrectly reported the condition that makes a root canal necessary.
Your day might begin with a meeting of your staff: receptionist, accounts person, hygienist, and chairside assistant. Your first patient of the day is typical. After your dental hygienist handles a routine teeth-cleaning, you start your examination and find one cavity, which you fill. More significantly, you find gum disease—hardly surprising, since 87 percent of people eventually have it. So for the millionth time in your career, you discuss the patient's brushing, flossing, and mouthwash use, and then dispense the lecture on good dental hygiene: not too scary, not too flip. Your next patient has broken a tooth on a popcorn kernel. You grind the tooth down, make a mold, and craft a temporary replacement. Then comes a more serious problem: a woman with gum and tooth disease that has spread so far that the nerve of one of her teeth has died. Time for a root canal. Fortunately—for both you and the patient—the procedure is much less painful than it used to be. After a few more patients, your final one of the day is a 15-year-old. You put a liquid sealant on her back teeth to prevent cavities. It takes awhile, so you explain to your captive audience why the procedure is so helpful. Then, to lighten the mood, you ask her if she knows what the dentist of the year gets. Answer: a little plaque. (Grooooan.)