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?”
If you think your smile is beyond hope, you might be in for a happy surprise: Today's dental cosmetics can improve even the most forlorn dental situation. It could be a one-visit tooth whitening—or a total “smile makeover.”
If it's the latter, your transformation journey could take months or even years—so you need some idea of where this journey will take you. That will come through initial discussions with your dentist about your dreams and desires for a new smile.
But you'll also need to consider what your dental condition will practically allow: Although your goal is a more attractive appearance, the higher priority is your long-term dental health. There's also cost—dental enhancements can be expensive, so you may have to adjust your dream smile to match the reality of your finances.
With the big picture in focus, the next step is to refine the details of your makeover plan. Nothing does this better—for you and your dentist—than to “see” your proposed smile ahead of time. This is possible with computer technology: Your dentist can modify a digitized photo of your face and smile to show the proposed changes to your teeth and give you a reasonable view of your future smile.
Another way is to create a “trial smile.” Using composite dental material, your dentist fashions a temporary restoration that fits over your teeth. Unlike the digitally enhanced still photo, a trial smile let's you see what your new appearance will look like while moving, talking or smiling. Although it's removed before you leave the office, you can have photos taken to show friends and family.
You and your dentist can use these methods to make adjustments to your makeover plan before applying the real enhancements. It also eliminates any unpleasant surprises after all the work is done—you'll already know what your future smile will look like.
These initial steps are just as important as the actual procedures you'll undergo. Through careful planning, you'll gain a new smile that can improve your life.
If you would like more information on smile transformations, 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 “Beautiful Smiles by Design.”
This year's Carol Burnett Award, presented at the Golden Globes, goes to Ellen DeGeneres for her “outstanding contributions to the television medium on or off the screen.” This is the latest in a long list of honors for the comedienne, talk show host and activist that includes Emmys, Grammys and Teen Choice Awards. And one not quite as well-known: a 2004 “Flossy” award.
DeGeneres received this honor from the National Flossing Council in recognition of her passionate promotion of oral hygiene, particularly flossing. She wrote about its virtues in her 2003 book, The Funny Thing Is…., saying, among other things, “Don't even think for a second that you can get away with not flossing.”
DeGeneres's motivational cheerleading for flossing is helpful and necessary because, well, many of us just don't like doing it. It requires more manual dexterity than its more popular sibling, brushing. And the tendency for the floss to gunk up with plaque residue for some is simply unpleasant.
Mainly, though, many folks think brushing is enough. Not so fast, according to dental professionals. While brushing removes disease-causing bacterial plaque from broad tooth surfaces, it can't effectively get into the spaces between teeth. It takes flossing to clear plaque from these more difficult areas.
But don't fret: There are ways to make flossing an easier—and more pleasant—task.
Ask us for help. As we said before, flossing does take some hand dexterity and coordination to perform. You may also wonder if you're doing it effectively. We can provide training and tips on how to be a more effective flosser at your next visit.
Practice, practice, practice. You probably think nothing of riding a bicycle, and yet it probably took you weeks or months as a kid to become proficient. Similarly, your first attempts at flossing might feel awkward, but you'll improve with practice, so don't give up.
Brush before you floss. Most people floss before brushing, but if you tend to encounter a lot of soft plaque debris that makes flossing “icky” for you, then try brushing first to clear a good portion of it out of the way before you floss. Just be aware, most professionals believe that flossing first is better because it loosens up debris between teeth so the bubbles from the toothpaste can carry it away. But any flossing is better than no flossing!
Try flossing tools. For some people, floss picks, small pre-threaded tools you can use with one hand, seem easier to maneuver than regular floss thread. If you have issues with manual dexterity, an oral irrigator can make the task easier: This handheld device uses a stream of pressurized water to loosen and flush away plaque between teeth.
So, follow Ellen DeGeneres's advice she gave Tulane University graduates during a commencement speech: “Remember to exfoliate, moisturize, exercise…and floss.” The latter, along with brushing, will certainly help keep your teeth and gums healthy.
The mouth is a crowded place with nerves, blood vessels and sinus cavities sharing common space with the teeth and gums. Although important in their own right, these structures can also hinder treatment for complex dental situations like dental implant surgery or impacted teeth.
Treating these and similar situations depends on getting an accurate depiction of “what lies beneath.” Conventional x-rays help, but their two-dimensional images don't always give the full picture. There's another way—cone beam computed tomography (CBCT).
Similar to CT scanning, CBCT uses x-ray energy to take hundreds of “sliced” images that are then re-assembled with special software to create a three-dimensional model viewable on a computer screen. CBCT is different, though, in that it employs a scanning device that revolves around a patient's head, which emits a cone-shaped beam of x-rays to capture the images.
A dentist can manipulate the resulting 3-D model on screen to study revealed oral structures from various angles to pinpoint potential obstacles like nerves or blood vessels. The detailed model may also aid in uncovering the underlying causes of a jaw joint disorder or sleep apnea.
CT technology isn't the only advanced imaging system used in healthcare. Another is magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), which excites hydrogen atoms in water molecules. This produces different vibration rates in individual tissue structures, which are then translated into detailed images of these structures. Unlike CT or CBCT, MRI doesn't use x-ray energy, but rather a magnetic field and radio waves to produce the atomic vibrations.
But while providing good detail of soft tissues, MRI imaging doesn't perform as well as CBCT with harder tissues like bone or teeth. As to the potential risks of CBCT involving x-ray radiation exposure, dentists follow much the same safety protocols as they do with conventional x-rays. As such, they utilize CBCT only when the benefits far outweigh the potential x-ray exposure risks.
And, CBCT won't be replacing conventional x-rays any time soon—the older technology is often the more practical diagnostic tool for less invasive dental situations. But when a situation requires the most detailed and comprehensive image possible, CBCT can make a big difference.
If you would like more information on advanced dental diagnostics, 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 “Getting the Full Picture With Cone Beam Dental Scans.”
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.”
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