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Posts for: March, 2021

By W. Robert Howarth, DDS, FASD, Family and Sports Dentistry
March 22, 2021
Category: Oral Health
Tags: oral health  
ANewDentalPainManagementApproachReducestheNeedforNarcotics

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?


By W. Robert Howarth, DDS, FASD, Family and Sports Dentistry
March 12, 2021
Category: Dental Procedures
Tags: tooth decay  
FrequentSinusInfectionsTakeaTriptoYourDentist

If you suffer frequent sinus infections, you might want to see a dentist. No, really—your recurring sinusitis might stem from a decayed tooth.

Tooth decay can start as a cavity, but left untreated can advance within the tooth and infect the pulp and root canals. If it reaches the end of the root, it can cause the root tip and surrounding bone to break down.

A severe toothache is often a good indicator that you have advanced tooth decay, which can usually be stopped with a root canal treatment.  But a decayed tooth doesn't always produce pain or other symptoms—you could have a “silent” infection that's less likely to be detected.

A symptomless, and thus untreated, infection in an upper back tooth could eventually impact the maxillary sinus, a hollow air-filled space located just above your back jaw. This is especially true for people whose tooth roots extend close to or even poke through the sinus floor.

That “silent” infection in your tooth, could therefore become a “loud” one in the sinuses causing chronic post-nasal drip, congestion and, of course, pain. Fortunately, a physician or an ear, nose and throat (ENT) specialist might suspect a dental origin for a case of recurring sinusitis, a condition known as maxillary sinusitis of endodontic origin (MSEO).

Antibiotic treatment can clear up sinusitis symptoms short-term. It's unlikely, though, it will do the same for a dental infection, which may continue to trigger subsequent rounds of sinusitis. The best approach is for a dentist, particularly a specialist in interior tooth disease called an endodontist, to investigate and, if a decayed tooth is found, treat the source of the infection.

As mentioned earlier, the solution is usually a root canal treatment. During this procedure, the dentist completely removes all infected tissue within the pulp and root canals, and then fills the empty spaces to prevent future infection. In one study, root canal therapy had a positive effect on alleviating sinusitis in about half of patients who were diagnosed with a decayed tooth.

If your sinusitis keeps coming back, speak with your doctor about the possibility of a dental cause. You may find treating a subsequently diagnosed decayed tooth could alleviate your sinus problem.

If you would like more information on how your dental health could affect the rest of your body, 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 “Sinusitis and Tooth Infections.”


By W. Robert Howarth, DDS, FASD, Family and Sports Dentistry
March 02, 2021
Category: Dental Procedures
WhetherVotingforaCandidateorWisdomTeethYouCanChooseWisely

During election season, you'll often hear celebrities encouraging you to vote. But this year, Kaia Gerber, an up-and-coming model following the career path of her mother Cindy Crawford, made a unique election appeal—while getting her wisdom teeth removed.

With ice packs secured to her jaw, Gerber posted a selfie to social media right after her surgery. The caption read, “We don't need wisdom teeth to vote wisely.”

That's great advice—electing our leaders is one of the most important choices we make as a society. But Gerber's post also highlights another decision that bears careful consideration, whether or not to have your wisdom teeth removed.

Found in the very back of the mouth, wisdom teeth (or “third molars”) are usually the last of the permanent teeth to erupt between ages 17 and 25. But although their name may be a salute to coming of age, in reality wisdom teeth can be a pain. Because they're usually last to the party, they're often erupting in a jaw already crowded with teeth. Such a situation can be a recipe for numerous dental problems.

Crowded wisdom teeth may not erupt properly and remain totally or partially hidden within the gums (impaction). As such, they can impinge on and damage the roots of neighboring teeth, and can make overall hygiene more difficult, increasing the risk of dental disease. They can also help pressure other teeth out of position, resulting in an abnormal bite.

Because of this potential for problems, it's been a common practice in dentistry to remove wisdom teeth preemptively before any problems arise. As a result, wisdom teeth extractions are the top oral surgical procedure performed, with around 10 million of them removed every year.

But that practice is beginning to wane, as many dentists are now adopting more of a “wait and see” approach. If the wisdom teeth show signs of problems—impaction, tooth decay, gum disease or bite influence—removal is usually recommended. If not, though, the wisdom teeth are closely monitored during adolescence and early adulthood. If no problems develop, they may be left intact.

This approach works best if you maintain regular dental cleanings and checkups. During these visits, we'll be able to consistently evaluate the overall health of your mouth, particularly in relation to your wisdom teeth.

Just as getting information on candidates helps you decide your vote, this approach of watchful waiting can help us recommend the best course for your wisdom teeth. Whether you vote your wisdom teeth “in” or “out,” you'll be able to do it wisely.

If you would like more information about what's best to do about wisdom teeth, please contact us or schedule a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine article “Wisdom Teeth.”