Skip to content

Oral Care

Font Size
A
A
A

Controlling Dental Pain

Fear of pain is the main reason people avoid seeing the dentist. The good news is that there is a wide array of medications and techniques -- used alone or in combination -- that can reduce or eliminate pain and control anxiety during most procedures.

Medications at the Dentist's Office

Recommended Related to Oral Health

Everyday Habits That Damage Your Teeth

You plan meals, grab drinks, and play sports without giving much thought to your teeth. But you might not realize how food, beverages, and activities can wreck the health of your pearly whites. Twenty-five percent of U.S. adults over age 65 have lost all their teeth - here's how you can protect your own.

Read the Everyday Habits That Damage Your Teeth article > >

  • Topical anesthetics. Topical anesthetics, applied with a swab, are routinely used to numb the area in the mouth or gums where the dental work will be done. The topical anesthetic is given prior to injection with a local anesthetic, such as  Lidocaine 
  • Laser drills. Some dentists are now using lasers to remove decay within a tooth and prepare the surrounding enamel for placement of the filling. Lasers may cause less pain in some instances and result in a reduced need for anesthesia.
  • Electronically delivered anesthesia (also called transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation -- or TENS). This is an alternative to the injection of a local anesthetic. Adhesive pads are placed on the face and a battery-powered device sends electrical impulses to the treatment area to numb it. The patient controls the level of stimulation through a hand-held unit. Another form of electronically delivered anesthesia is called cranial electrotherapy stimulation. Under this technique, electricity is passed into the brain, which causes relaxation. Again, the patient controls the intensity of the current, increasing or decreasing it to control the pain as needed. Advantages of these approaches are that as soon as the device is switched off, the effect is instantly reversed. The patient is able to drive and resume normal activities immediately following the dental visit.
  • Nitrous oxide (also called laughing gas). This gas, which is inhaled by the patient through a rubber face mask, helps people feel relaxed and is one of the most common forms of sedation used in the dental office. Effects wear off quickly after the gas is turned off. This is the only form of sedation under which patients can drive after the procedure and can eat food within a 12-hour period of the procedure. With IV, oral and general anesthesia, the patient cannot drive following the procedure or eat after midnight the night before the procedure.
  • Intravenous sedation. This form of pain and anxiety control involves injecting a sedative into a vein of a patient's arm or hand. This approach is usually reserved for patients undergoing extensive dental procedures or for the extremely anxious patient. Dentists need to monitor the oxygen level of patients receiving IV sedation and may need to give such patients additional oxygen during the procedure. With IV sedation, the patient is awake but very relaxed. If you think you may be interested in IV sedation, ask your dentist if he or she is licensed to administer intravenous sedatives. Oral sedation. An oral medication, such as  Halcion, works on the central nervous system to help patients relax. Oral sedatives are often not prescribed because they take about 30 minutes before their effects are felt and can cause drowsiness that may last for hours. 
  • General anesthesia. With this technique, the patient is "put to sleep" for the duration of the procedure. Patients requiring general anesthesia can be treated in the dentist's office, but more likely are treated in a hospital setting. This is because this type of anesthesia has risks, which include a sudden drop in  blood pressure and irregular heartbeats, so the patient needs to be closely monitored. For these reasons, general anesthesia is typically only used if extensive dental work is needed and when other forms of sedation or pain control are not sufficient to conquer fear. If you think you may be interested in general sedation, ask your dentist if he or she is licensed to administer this form of sedation. 

How Do I Measure Up? Get the Facts Fast!

Number of Days Per Week I Floss

Get the latest Oral Health newsletter delivered to your inbox!


or
Answer:
Never
(0)
Good
(1-3)
Better
(4-6)
Best
(7)

You are currently

Only 18.5% of Americans never floss. You are missing out on a simple way to make a big difference in the health of your mouth. Regardless of how well you brush, plaque still forms between your teeth and along your gums. Floss removes food trapped between the teeth and removes the film of bacteria that forms there before it turns to plaque, which can cause inflamed gums (gingivitis), cavities, and tooth loss. Try flossing just one tooth to get started.

You are one of 31% of Americans who don't floss daily. You are missing out on a simple way to make a big difference in the health of your mouth. Regardless of how well you brush, plaque still forms between your teeth and along your gums. Toothbrush bristles alone cannot clean effectively between these tight spaces. Flossing removes up to 80% of the film that hardens to plaque, which can cause inflamed gums (gingivitis), cavities, and tooth loss. Aim for 3 more days!

You are one of 31% of Americans who don't floss daily, but you're well on your way to making a positive impact on your teeth and gums. Regardless of how well you brush, plaque still forms between your teeth and along your gums. Toothbrush bristles alone cannot clean effectively between these tight spaces. Flossing removes up to 80% of the film that hardens to plaque, which can cause inflamed gums (gingivitis), cavities, and tooth loss. Aim for all 7 days!

Only 50.5% of Americans floss daily, and good for you that you are one of them! Regardless of how well you brush, plaque still forms between your teeth and along your gums. Toothbrush bristles alone cannot clean effectively between these tight spaces. Flossing removes up to 80% of the film that hardens to plaque, which can cause inflamed gums (gingivitis), cavities, and tooth loss. Congratulations on your good oral health habit!

SOURCES:

American Dental Association, Healthy People 2010

This tool is intended only for adults 18 and older.

Start Over

Step:  of 

Today on WebMD

close up of woman sticking out tongue
Sores, discoloration, bumps and more.
toothbrushes
10 secrets to a brighter smile.
 
Veneer smile
Before and after.
Woman checking her bite in mirror
Why dental care is important.
 

Woman dissatisfied with granola bar
Slideshow
woman with jaw pain
Quiz
 
eroded front teeth
Slideshow
brushing teeth
Video
 

Variety shades of tea
Slideshow
mouth and dental instruments
Article
 
Closeup of a happy young guy brushing his teeth
Tool
womans smile
Video