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?”
A wave of madness is about to sweep across Indianapolis and onto television screens across America—March Madness, that is. That's right: After its cancellation in 2020 due to COVID-19, the famed NCAA men's basketball tournament is back with all 68 games scheduled to be played in and around Indianapolis. As you can imagine, there will be numerous health precautions, and not just for the pandemic—there should also be mouthguards aplenty.
Why mouthguards? Although you might think football and hockey would be rougher on players' teeth, gums and jaws, basketball actually tops the list of sports with the most dental injuries. Such an injury occurring from a split-second contact with another player could take years to overcome.
Fortunately, mouthguards are a proven way to reduce sports-related mouth injuries among professional and amateur basketball athletes. Made of a pliable plastic, mouthguards cushion against blunt forces to the mouth generated during play (and not only formal games—practices and scrimmages too).
But while wearing a mouthguard is a no-brainer, choosing one can be a little intimidating. True, they all work on the same principle, but there are dozens of types, designs and price ranges.
We can, however, distill them down to two basic categories: “boil and bite” and custom mouthguards. You'll find the first kind online or in a local retail sporting goods store. It's named so because you first place it in hot water to soften it, and then place it in the mouth and bite down to create an individual fit.
As an inexpensive option, boil and bite mouthguards provide a level of protection. But they also tend to be bulky and uncomfortable, which can tempt players to wear them less. And the softer plastic (compared to custom guards) allows for a lot of jaw (and in turn, teeth) movement, which can cause teeth to loosen over time.
Custom mouthguards, on the other hand, are created by dentists based on impressions made of the wearer's mouth. As such, the fit tends to be more precise, requiring less material than the boil and bite variety, thus affording a greater degree of comfort. And there's less potentially damaging jaw movement with a custom mouthguard. As you might imagine, custom mouthguards are more expensive, but compared to the potential treatment cost for a sports-related dental injury, it's money well spent.
Investing in a custom mouthguard for your family basketball (or football, hockey or baseball) player is a sound way to protect their dental health. And that's not madness at all.
Teenagers can have the same smile-disrupting tooth flaws as adults. But not all cosmetic treatments available to adults are appropriate for teenagers—at least not until they get a little older. Dental veneers fall into that category.
A veneer is a thin porcelain shell custom-made by a dental lab, and bonded by a dentist to the face of a tooth to mask chips, stains, gaps or other imperfections. Because they're less invasive than other measures, veneers are highly popular as a cosmetic dental solution. They do, however, usually require some enamel removal so that they'll appear more natural.
This enamel removal typically won't impact an adult tooth other than it permanently requires it to have veneers or other restorations after alteration. But there is a risk of damage to a teenager's tooth, which hasn't fully developed.
Adolescent teeth usually have a larger pulp chamber (filled with an intricate network of nerves and blood vessels) than adult teeth. And because the enamel and dentin layers may not yet be fully developed, the pulp is much nearer to the tooth's surface.
We must be very careful then in removing enamel and dentin for veneers or we may penetrate the pulp and risk damaging it. Alternatively, there is the possibility of no-prep veneers which are very conservative but often are unable to be done because of the need to often remove tooth structure to make the veneers look natural.
Another cosmetic problem can occur if we place veneers on a patient's teeth whose jaws and mouth structures are still growing. Eventually, the gums could recede and an unsightly gap form between the veneer and the adjacent natural tooth.
Fortunately, there are other techniques we can use to improve a tooth's appearance. Mild chipping can be repaired by bonding composite resin material to the tooth. Some forms of staining may be overcome with teeth whitening. These and other methods can address a teenager's smile appearance until their teeth are mature enough for veneers.
Whether or not a tooth is ready for veneers will depend on its level of development, something that can often be ascertained with x-rays or other diagnostic methods. And if a tooth has already undergone a root canal treatment, there isn't as much concern. In the meantime, though, it may be better for your teen to wait on veneers and try other techniques to enhance their smile.
If you would like more information on dental restoration for teenagers, 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 “Veneers for Teenagers.”
Buffalo Bills wide receiver Stefon Diggs wrapped up the NFL regular season in January, setting single-season records in both catches and receiving yards. The Bills handily beat the Miami Dolphins, earning themselves the second seed in the AFC playoffs, and Diggs certainly did his part, making 7 catches for 76 yards. But what set the internet ablaze was not Diggs' accomplishments on the field but rather what the camera caught him doing on the sidelines—flossing his teeth!
The Twitterverse erupted with Bills fans poking fun at Diggs. But Diggs is not ashamed of his good oral hygiene habits, and CBS play-by-play announcer Kevin Harlan expressed his support with “Dental hygiene is something to take note of, kids! There's never a bad place to floss” and “When you lead the NFL in catches and yards, you can floss anytime you want.”
We like to think so. There's an old joke among dentists:
Q. Which teeth do you need to floss?
A. Only the ones you want to keep.
Although this sounds humorous, it is borne out in research. Of note, a 2017 study showed that people who floss have a lower risk of tooth loss over periods of 5 years and 10 years, and a 2020 study found that older adults who flossed lost an average of 1 tooth in 5 years, while those who don't lost around 4 teeth in the same time period.
We in the dental profession stress the importance of flossing as a daily habit—and Stefon Diggs would likely agree—yet fewer than 1 in 3 Americans floss every day. The 2016 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), conducted by the CDC's National Center for Health Statistics, revealed that only 30% of Americans floss every day, while 37% floss less than every day and 32% never floss.
The biggest enemy on the football field may be the opposing team, but the biggest enemy to your oral health is plaque, a sticky film of bacteria and food debris that builds up on tooth surfaces. Plaque can cause tooth decay and gum disease, the number one cause of tooth loss among adults. Flossing is necessary to remove plaque from between teeth and around the gums where a toothbrush can't reach. If not removed, plaque hardens into tartar, which can only be removed by the specialized tools used in the dental office. Regular professional dental cleanings are also needed to get at those hard-to-reach spots you may have missed.
If Diggs can find time to floss during a major NFL game, the rest of us can certainly find a couple minutes a day to do it. While we might not recommend Diggs' technique of flossing from one side of the mouth to the other, we commend his enthusiasm and commitment to keeping his teeth and gums healthy. Along with good dental hygiene at home—or on the sidelines if you are Stefon Diggs—regular professional dental cleanings and checkups play a key role in maintaining a healthy smile for life.
The timing around losing a tooth may not always sync with your financial ability. It's not unusual for people to postpone getting a dental implant—by far the best option for replacing a missing tooth—because of its expense.
So, if you have to postpone dental implants until you can afford them, what do you do in the meantime to keep your smile intact? One affordable option is a temporary restoration known as a flexible removable partial denture (RPD).
Composed of a kind of nylon developed in the 1950s, flexible RPDs are made by first heating the nylon and injecting its softened form into a custom mold. This creates a gum-colored denture base to which prosthetic (false) teeth are affixed at the exact locations for missing teeth.
Differing from a permanent RPD made with rigid acrylic plastic, a nylon-based RPD is flexible and lightweight, making them comfortable to wear. They're kept in place with small nylon extensions that fit into the natural concave spaces of teeth. And, with a bit of custom crafting, they can look quite realistic.
RPDs are helpful in another way, especially if you're waiting for an implant down the road: They help preserve the missing tooth space. Without a prosthetic tooth occupying that space, neighboring teeth can drift in. You might then need orthodontic treatment to move errant teeth to where they should be before obtaining a permanent restoration.
Flexible RPDs may not be as durable as acrylic RPDs, and can be difficult to repair or reline if needed to adjust the fit. Though they may not stain as readily as acrylic dentures, you'll still need to clean them regularly to help them keep looking their best. This also aids in protecting the rest of your mouth from dental disease by removing any buildup of harmful bacterial plaque on the RPD.
But even with these limitations, patients choose RPDs for the simple fact that they're affordable and temporary. And the latter is their greatest benefit—providing you a “bridge” between losing a tooth and replacing it with a durable dental implant.
If you would like more information on tooth replacement options, 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 “Flexible Partial Dentures.”
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