Let’s face it, going to the dentist is not fun – especially for kids. The pain and discomfort that comes after a dental procedure can cause a lot of anxiety in children, but they don’t have to.
The American Dental Association (ADA) has just released new guidelines for managing dental pain in children, which will allow you to provide the best possible care for your child after their next appointment.
What are the ADA’s New Guidelines for Managing Dental Pain in Children?
A recent clinical practice guideline published by the ADA recommends acetaminophen (a pain reliever and fever reducer) like tylenol, or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen, as the primary treatments for managing acute dental pain in children under the age of 12. This guideline is the joint effort of the ADA Science & Research Institute, the University of Pittsburgh School of Dental Medicine, and the Center for Integrative Global Oral Health at the University of Pennsylvania School of Dental Medicine.
According to the guideline, when administered as directed, acetaminophen alone, NSAIDs alone, or a combination of acetaminophen and NSAIDs can effectively alleviate a child’s pain following a tooth extraction or during a toothache when immediate dental care is unavailable.
The guideline also states that the dosages of acetaminophen and NSAIDs may differ from the instructions on over-the-counter medication packaging. However, when these medications are administered according to a dentist’s or healthcare provider’s guidance, the risk of harm to children is small.
“This clinical prescribing guideline is a critical step in supporting appropriate treatment of pediatric acute dental pain through the use of acetaminophen and NSAIDs,” said Patrizia Cavazzoni, M.D., director of the FDA Center for Drug Evaluation and Research. “Not only will this advice allow for better treatment of this kind of pain, but it will help prevent unnecessary prescribing of medications with abuse potential, including opioids.”
When Dental Pain Raises Concerns
It is important to distinguish between typical dental discomfort in children and situations that require immediate attention from a dentist. Here are some guidelines to help tell the difference:
- Duration of discomfort. If pain from any dental procedure has not subsided within 3-5 days, consider making a followup appointment.
- Swelling. Rapid or significant swelling, especially when accompanied by pain and fever, could be a sign of infection and requires immediate dental attention.
- Sensitivity. Mild sensitivity to hot, cold, sweet, or acidic foods and drinks can be common after a dental procedure. If the sensitivity is severe and doesn’t improve or worsens over time, it could indicate a more serious issue.
In general, if the patient is experiencing any dental discomfort that doesn’t resolve on its own within a reasonable time (1 week max) or if it’s severe, persistent, or coupled with other symptoms like fever or swelling, it is best to consult a dentist right away.
Treating Dental Pain in Pediatric Patients
Dental pain in pediatric patients doesn’t have to be a challenging experience for children and their parents. As a caregiver or healthcare provider, it’s essential to know how to manage and alleviate discomfort in young dental patients.
Over-the-Counter Pain Medication: Acetaminophen or ibuprofen can help manage mild to moderate dental pain. Follow the recommended dosage for the child’s age and weight, otherwise as the new guidelines recommend, use a specific dosage the dentist recommends.
Prescription Medication: For severe pain, dental professionals may prescribe stronger medications as a last resort. It’s essential to use these as directed by a healthcare provider.
Paul Moore, D.M.D., Ph.D., the ADA guideline’s senior author says, “While prescribing opioids to children has become less frequent overall, this guideline ensures that both dentists and parents have evidence-based recommendations to determine the most appropriate treatment for dental pain. Parents and caregivers can take comfort that widely available medications that have no abuse potential, such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen, are safe and effective for helping their children find relief from short-term dental pain.”
Behavior Management: Pediatric dentists are skilled in managing children’s behavior during dental procedures, using techniques like distraction and positive reinforcement for relaxation and to prevent anxiety.
Find the Right Dentist to Manage Your Child’s Discomfort
It is essential for parents to choose a dentist who specializes in pediatric dentistry and is skilled in managing dental anxiety in children. Open communication, patience, and a child-friendly dental office environment can go a long way in reducing anxiety and ensuring that children receive the dental care they need. Make an appointment now to find the right dentist for your child.