Can TENS Therapy Help with Tooth Pain?

TENS analgesics can be a great short-term solution for tooth pain, especially when waiting for a dentist appointment. It's common to experience facial pain, which can radiate to the neck and shoulders, as well as headaches, ear pain, or even mouth pain. A TENS unit works by blocking pain signals that reach the brain, providing relief and reducing stress that can cause tension in the jaw. In a double-blind study of 20 patients needing class 1 amalgam restorations on their first permanent mandibular molars, 83.7% of patients improved significantly with the application of TENS.

The constant mode yielded slightly better therapeutic results than the TENS burst mode. Harvey and Elliott (1995) also discovered that TENS is effective in reducing pain during tooth decay preparation in pediatric patients. A conventional TENS device typically produces low intensity pulsed currents with a high frequency. In adults, it has been successfully used as an excellent analgesic during various procedures such as the placement of rubber gaskets, the preparation of cavities, pulp capping and other endodontic procedures, the preparation of dental prostheses, oral prophylaxis and extractions.

However, Hochman (2) found that TENS is less successful in patients who are “skeptical” and “very sensitive to pain”. It can also be used to produce non-analgesic physiological effects and has been found to be beneficial in the treatment of xerostomia. Patients who received TENS reported a significant decrease in pain with EVA in the evaluation periods of 24, 36 and 48 hours. In 1986, Roth and Thrash (20) used TENS to evaluate its effect on periodontal pain associated with orthodontic spacers placed mesial and distal to the first upper molars in 45 adult patients.

In pediatric patients, it has been used effectively to control pain during various procedures such as the placement of pit and fissure sealants, the preparation of cavities, minor extractions and endodontic procedures. William Stenberg (2) reported in 1994 on the use of TENS to control pain during cavity preparation in a 24-year-old patient susceptible to malignant hyperthermia and obtained favorable results. TENS therapy can be an effective way to manage tooth pain while waiting for a dentist appointment. However, it requires patient cooperation so it should not be attempted on patients with communication problems or mental disabilities.

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