Some people avoid dental treatment because they anticipate pain both during treatment, and after it as well. Dentists have many ways of reducing potential discomfort associated with certain dental procedures after the anesthesia has worn off. These procedures include: dental extractions and other minor dental surgery, root canal therapy, periodontal (gum) surgery, and multiple dental fillings.
Dentists are just as concerned with managing pain after treatment as they are during it. One of the first things dentists do is to make sure that they perform the procedure in as gentle a manner as possible. A forceful technique can put excessive pressure on the teeth, gums, or other oral tissues, which can cause greater discomfort after the procedure is completed. Dentists may also use anesthesia that lasts longer (7-12 hours instead of 3) or give pain medication like ibuprophen prior to some procedures, because these measures have been shown to reduce pain after treatment. Dentists are also licensed to prescribe potent narcotic drugs that are highly effective in reducing or eliminating any discomfort after dental treatment. The most effective way, however, to help patients cope with discomfort after dental procedures is to let them know what to expect, ahead of time. For instance, if I am doing a root canal on a patient (usually a painless procedure), I will inform them that they should expect to have a least some discomfort for a few days after the procedure. By doing this, the patient is better prepared to deal with discomfort if it occurs, greatly reducing both anxiety and the perception of pain.
The final step is for the dentist to call their patient at home after potentially painful treatment. This is something that I have done for years. I like to see how my patient is doing, if the medication is working, or if they have any questions about their treatment. Some dentists do this, and I suspect more will in the future. Aside from being “the right thing to do”, research has shown that a person’s perception of pain is less when the dentist calls home to find out how their patient is doing.
Most dentists realize that pain is a very subjective phenomenon. What this means is that a person’s emotions, have a large impact on their perception of pain. For example, if the patient gets the feeling that their dentist is insensitive or lacks compassion, there is a good possibility that other concrete measures that he or she uses to reduce pain will be less than successful. On the other hand, a dentist who makes a worthy effort to reduce all discomfort associated with dental treatment, and empathizes with his or her patients, will have much better results.