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Relieving Dental Pain

You and your dentist have a range of options in addressing pain, including medication. When choosing a pain medication, you might consider:

  • The level of pain you are having or are likely to have;
  • Whether the pain is acute (expected to last for a short time) or chronic (happening for a longer period)
  • Your health history (including past or current conditions)
  • Other medications you are currently taking (including over the counter ones). (Note: Any medication has the risks of causing side effects.)

OTC Drugs

OTC pain medications can be bought without a prescription and include nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and acetaminophen (Tylenol). Examples of OTC NSAIDs include ibuprofen (Advil or Motrin), naproxen (Aleve or Naprosyn) or aspirin. Some of these drugs may be better suited than others for treating certain types of pain. For example, naproxen may relieve pain longer than other medications in some people. This could be helpful when taken at bedtime, offering a better chance at a good night’s sleep.

Sometimes using two of these drugs together may boost the effect of either used alone. For example, some study results show that ibuprofen and acetaminophen taken together may improve pain relief after third-molar extraction. At times, though, two drugs taken together may react poorly. People who have had a heart attack or atrial fibrillation, which is a type of irregular heartbeat, and are taking a medication intended to prevent blood clots, like aspirin, may be at increased risk of serious bleeding, high blood pressure or more serious cardiac reactions when prescribed an NSAID. People with asthma and kidney disease also should be cautious about using NSAIDs.

Prescription Drugs

Some OTC medications, such as ibuprofen and naproxen, are available in higher dosages and need to be prescribed by your dentist or physician. Opioids also require a prescription. Opioids may be combined with an OTC medication or used on their own. For example, Vicodin is a combination of the opioid hydrocodone and acetaminophen, and OxyContin (also known as oxycodone) is an opioid that is used alone.

Some people find that opioids make them sleepy. If this is a problem for you, you may have to make adjustments like not driving while using this medication. Because opioids are narcotics, there is also a risk of developing an addiction to the drug. This is one reason to share with your dentist any problems you have had or currently have with drug or alcohol abuse.

Taking Prescription Drugs Safely

Take your medicine exactly as directed. Also, remember, your prescription is written for your use only. It can be harmful or even fatal when used by someone else. In fact, it is against the law to give narcotics (like opioids) to another person. Tell your dentist if you are or will be taking any other medications (even OTC medications) because some combinations can be dangerous.

For information about how to store or dispose of unused prescription medications, visit MouthHealthy.org, the American Dental Association’s website for patients, at mouthhealthy.org/drugdisposal.

Talking to Your Dentist About Pain Mediation

When you talk to your dentist about pain relief, be sure to tell him or her about any medications you are taking and provide a full health history (including drug or alcohol abuse). This information will influence the type of pain relief that is right for you.

Make sure you understand how often you should take your medication and whether there are any special instructions for its use (for example, whether you should take the medicine after a meal). Always follow your dentist’s instructions, whether you are taking an OTC or a prescribed medication.

If you find that the recommended medication is not relieving your pain or is causing unusual side effects, call your dentist. Because a number of medications are available for controlling pain, he or she might be able to suggest another option that is better suited for you. FBN

By Bryan Shanahan, DDS


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