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Best Practices to Managing Pain At Dentist's Office

With modern advances and well-trained dentists, it would seem dental fear should be almost nil. Yet, there are plenty of people who fear and avoid the dentist due to everything from negative past experiences to pain avoidance. A study published in the Journal of the American Dental Association even links increased fear of dental pain and anxiety to a gene variation found in people with red hair.

Even if you don’t fit into that extreme, let’s face it, most of us find dental procedures unpleasant. Fortunately, there are many options to help manage pain. Knowing a little about each of them can help you ask informed questions that will assist you and your dentist in making the best, most comfortable decision for you.

Here is a primer on pain management practices to give you a basic understanding:

Dental anesthesia

Various dental procedures, from fillings to extractions, may require some level of anesthesia. In these circumstances, an anesthetic is used to block pain-transmitting nerves.

Anesthesia may be topical, injected, or intravenous. Typically, a topical anesthesia is applied to lessen the sting of a Novocain injection, which may be used to lessen pain during a filling. General anesthesia is administered through an IV and is often used during wisdom tooth extractions and other major dental work.

There are always risks involved with anesthesia. Be sure to talk to your dentist or oral surgeon about your previous experiences with anesthetics in any setting. Ask them questions about their qualifications, how you will be monitored, and what they will do should you have a reaction.

Read this brochure from the American Dental Society of Anesthesiology for more information.

Sedation dentistry

Many people experience fear and anxiety about seeing the dentist. This can impact their quality of life leading up to a visit or make them reluctant to schedule appointments at all. Avoiding the dentist can lead to expensive and more painful oral health problems that may perpetuate the fear and anxiety.

Sedation dentistry is the use of pharmacological agents to calm and relax a patient prior to and during a dental appointment. In other words, this practice uses drugs that affect the nervous system to calm and relax patients. There are various degrees of sedation, but the patient is typically given nitrous oxide to breath, a pill, or an IV drip. He or she remains conscious.

In “Sedation Dentistry: Can You Really Relax in the Dentist’s Chair?” WebMD suggests sedation dentistry as appropriate for people who:

  • Have a low pain threshold
  • Can’t sit still in the dentist’s chair
  • Have very sensitive teeth
  • Have a bad gag reflex
  • Need a large amount of dental work

For more tips on managing dental fear and anxiety, visit Dental Fear Central.

Analgesics

Some dental procedures leave residual pain. Your dentist may prescribe something or suggest an over-the-counter drug. Pain relievers, which are known as analgesics, are divided into narcotic and non-narcotic. The American Dental Association defines them as follows:

  • Narcotic analgesics—Most commonly used drugs for relief of toothache or pain following dental treatment; may include aspirin, acetaminophen and non-steroidal, anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen
  • Narcotic analgesics—These act on the central nervous system to relieve pain; they are used for more severe pain and may include opioids

To learn more about sedation and anesthesia types, as well as safety and monitoring information, visit The American Society of Dentist Anesthesiologists.



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