Narcotics have long played an important role in easing severe pain caused by disease, trauma or treatment. Healthcare professionals, including dentists, continue to prescribe them as a matter of course.
But narcotics are also addictive and can be dangerous if abused. Although addictions often arise from using illegal drugs like heroin, they can begin with prescriptive narcotics like morphine or oxycodone that were initially used by patients for legitimate reasons.
As a result, many healthcare providers are looking for alternatives to narcotics and new protocols for pain management. This has led to an emerging approach among dentists to use non-addictive non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) as their first choice for pain management, reserving narcotics for more acute situations.
Routinely used by the public to reduce mild to moderate pain, NSAIDs like acetaminophen, ibuprofen or aspirin have also been found to be effective for managing pain after many dental procedures or minor surgeries. NSAIDs also have fewer side effects than narcotics, and most can be obtained without a prescription.
Dentists have also found that alternating ibuprofen and acetaminophen can greatly increase the pain relief effect. As such, they can be used for many more after-care situations for which narcotics would have been previously prescribed. Using combined usage, dentists can further limit the use of narcotics to only the most severe pain situations.
Research from the early 2010s backs up this new approach. A study published in the Journal of the American Dental Association (JADA) concluded that patients receiving this combined ibuprofen/acetaminophen usage fared better than those only receiving either one individually. The method could also match the relief power of narcotics in after care for a wide range of procedures.
The NSAID approach is growing in popularity, but it hasn't yet displaced the first-line use of narcotics by dental professionals. The hesitancy to adopt the newer approach is fueled as much by patients, who worry it won't be as adequate as narcotics to manage their pain after dental work, as with dentists.
But as more patients experience effective results after dental work with NSAIDs alone, the new approach should gain even more momentum. And in the end, it promises to be a safer way to manage pain.
If you would like more information on dental pain management, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Are Opioids (Narcotics) the Best Way to Manage Dental Pain?”
The NBA's reigning MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo may seem unstoppable, but he proved no match for a troubled tooth. Antetokounmpo, the self-proclaimed “Greek Freak,” missed one of the final three 2020 regular season games for a dental issue that resulted in last-minute oral surgery. According to a Milwaukee Bucks spokesperson, the star underwent “a root-canal like procedure.”
Root canal therapy, often simply called “a root canal,” may be needed when there is an infection inside the tooth. When dental pulp becomes inflamed or infected, excruciating pain can result. Pulp is the soft tissue that fills the inside of the tooth. It is made up of nerves, blood vessels and connective tissue. During root canal treatment, the pulp is removed, the space inside the tooth is disinfected, it is filled with a special material, and then the hole is sealed up.
A root canal is nothing to fear. It relieves pain by getting rid of infection and is so effective that over 15 million of them are performed in the U.S. each year. This routine procedure generally requires only local anesthetic, and your mouth should be back to normal within a day or two after treatment. Antetokounmpo can attest to that, as he returned to play the next day.
However, delaying root canal treatment when you need it can have serious consequences. If left untreated, an infection inside the tooth continues to spread, and it may move into the gums and jaw and cause other problems in the body. So, how do you know if you may need a root canal? Here are some signs:
Lingering sensitivity to hot or cold temperatures. One sign of nerve damage inside your tooth is pain that is still there 30 seconds after eating or drinking something hot or cold.
Intense pain when biting down. You may feel pain deep within your tooth, or in your jaw, face or other teeth. The pain may be hard to pinpoint—and even if it improves at times, it usually comes back.
A chipped, cracked or discolored tooth. A chip or crack can allow bacteria to enter the tooth, and the tooth may darken if the tissue inside is damaged.
A pimple on the gum. A bump or pimple on the gum that doesn't go away or keeps coming back may signify that a nearby tooth is infected.
Tender, swollen gums. Swollen gums may indicate an infection inside the tooth or the need for periodontal treatment.
And sometimes there is no pain, but an infection may be discovered during a dental exam.
Tooth pain should never be ignored, so don't put off a dental visit when you have a toothache. In fact, if a bad toothache goes away, it could mean that the nerves inside the tooth have died, but the infection may still be raging. Also, be sure to keep up with your regular dental checkups. We may spot a small problem that can be addressed before it becomes a bigger problem that would require more extensive treatment.
Remember, for dental issues both large and small, we're on your team! If you would like more information about tooth pain, please contact us or schedule a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Tooth Pain? Don't Wait!” and “Root Canal Treatment: What You Need to Know.”
“Personalize Your Plate” is the theme for this year's National Nutrition Month in March, sponsored by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. It means there isn't a single diet for all of us: We're each unique with differing body types and tastes, and our diets need to be unique as well. Still, though, you'll want to be sure to include basic nutrients that are generally good for all of us—including for our teeth.
As you “personalize” your daily diet, be sure it includes dental-friendly vitamins and minerals. Here are some of the more important ones that contribute to strong and healthy teeth, and the kinds of foods in which you'll find them.
Vitamin D. This vitamin is a key element for growing and maintaining healthy teeth and bone, mainly by helping the body absorb calcium. You'll find vitamin D in milk, eggs or fatty fish—and you'll also gain a little strolling outdoors in the sunshine!
Vitamin E. As an antioxidant, vitamin E helps the body fight free radical molecules that contribute to cancer development, including oral cancer. You'll find vitamin E naturally in seeds and nuts (and derivative cooking oils), wheat germ and whole grains.
Calcium. When included with vitamin D and phosphorus, calcium is an important “construction material” for building strong teeth and bones. You'll find calcium in dairy products like milk and cheese as well as greens, legumes and tofu.
Phosphorus. Eighty-five percent of the body's phosphorus, a companion mineral to calcium, is found in teeth and bones, where it helps to keep them strong and healthy. You'll find this important mineral in meats, milk and eggs.
Magnesium. This mineral helps mineralize teeth and bones, giving them strength and protection against disease. You can get magnesium by eating nuts, legumes, whole grains, dark leafy greens, seafood and—if you limit the added sugar content—chocolate.
Fluoride. Most people are familiar with fluoride added to drinking water or toothpaste to strengthen tooth enamel against tooth decay, but the mineral also occurs naturally in some foods. You can obtain low amounts of fluoride in seafood and black or green tea.
One last thing! While we're promoting foods that you should eat for healthier teeth, there's also one you'll want to cut back on: processed sugar. This carbohydrate is a major factor in oral bacterial growth that causes tooth decay and gum disease. So, eating foods low in sugar and high in these key vitamins and minerals will help ensure your teeth stay healthy.
If you would like more information about the importance of nutrition in dental care, please contact us or schedule a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine article “Nutrition: Its Role in General & Oral Health.”
Knowing what to do—and what not to do—when your child is sick can greatly affect their health and well-being. That's especially true with dental problems.
Here then are some Dos and Don'ts for 3 common problems children experience with their teeth and gums.
Teething. An infant's first teeth breaking through the gums is a normal but often unpleasant experience. Fortunately, teething episodes only last a few days. And, there's usually no need to see the dentist unless they have a fever or diarrhea while teething. In the meantime:
- Do: provide them chilled (not frozen) cloth or plastic items to bite and gnaw, and massage their gums to relieve painful pressure. You can also give them an age-appropriate dose of a mild pain reliever.
- Don't: rub any medication on their gums, which can irritate them and other soft tissues. Never use alcohol or aspirin to alleviate teething discomfort. And avoid using anything with benzocaine, a numbing agent which can be hazardous to young children.
Toothache. Whether a momentary sensitivity to hot or cold or a sharp, throbbing pain, a child's toothache often signals tooth decay, a bacterial disease which could eventually lead to tooth loss.
- Do: make a dental appointment at your child's first complaint of a toothache. Ease the pain with a warm-water rinse, a cold compress to the outside of the jaw, or a mild pain reliever.
- Don't: rub medication on the teeth or gums (for similar reasons as with teething). Don't apply ice or heat directly to the affected tooth or gums, which can burn them.
Bleeding gums. Gum bleeding from normal brushing or flossing, along with red or swollen gums, may indicate periodontal (gum) disease. Although rare in children, it can still happen—and it can put an affected tooth in danger.
- Do: see your dentist if bleeding continues for a few days. Continue to brush gently with a soft-bristled toothbrush around the gums to remove plaque, a thin-biofilm most responsible for gum infection.
- Don't: brush aggressively or more than twice a day, which could unnecessarily irritate and damage the gums. And don't stop brushing—it's important to remove plaque buildup daily to lessen the gum infection.
Millions of Americans rely on dental insurance to help them better afford dental care. Depending on the benefit package, an insurance policy can be useful in restoring dental health compromised by disease or injury.
But how life-like that restoration may appear is often a secondary concern with many insurance plans. For example, dental insurance will pay for a crown restoration that restores function to a tooth, but not necessarily of the highest aesthetic quality for achieving a truly life-like appearance.
To be sure, not all dental crowns are the same. Some are all metal, usually gold or silver. Some are “hybrids,” made of an interior metal shell with an outer fused porcelain shell (porcelain-fused-to-metal or PFM). In recent years all -ceramic crowns made of stronger life-like ceramics have become the most popular.
The type of crown used will depend a great deal on the type and location of the tooth. Teeth on the back of the jaw that encounter greater biting forces and are not as noticeable in the smile may do better with a metal or PFM crown. Visible side and front teeth are more likely candidates for all-ceramic. Your dentist will give you your best options as it pertains to your dental needs and appearance.
There's also a difference in crown workmanship. Dental laboratories now use milling machinery that sculpts a crown from a single block of material. Although some final handwork by skilled technicians is still necessary, milling has streamlined the process—and the cost—for producing a crown of high functioning quality.
But crowns that achieve the most natural smile appearance require more in the way of artistic craftsmanship. This in turn can increase the crown's price—beyond what many dental policies agree to cover. You may then be faced with a decision: an insurance-covered functional crown with an acceptable level of life-likeness or a more life-like crown for which you may have to pay more out-of-pocket.
Your dentist can advise you on your best options for a crown restoration, also factoring in what your insurance will cover. Ultimately, though, you'll have to weigh the kind of smile you desire with your dental situation and finances.
If you would like more information on dental crown restorations, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Porcelain Dental Crowns.”
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