Atypical Odontalgia: Dentures Induce Phantom Tooth Pain?

denturesMost people assume that once they get dentures, they won’t have to worry about tooth pain. Unfortunately, some people experience atypical odontalgia, also known as phantom tooth pain. This malady develops after tooth extractions and similar procedures, though it is created by the nerves remaining in the gum rather than the dentures or remaining teeth.

Causes of Atypical Odontalgia

Currently, dentists do not know what causes atypical odontalgia. The American Academy of Oral Medicine and other research and non-profit organizations have conducted several studies on the condition. They have not discovered definitive causes as of yet, but they have determined several correlating factors that are present in those who contract it.

The current factors include a family history of atypical odontalgia, middle to old age, and female. Currently, there is no correlation among race, as most cases are fairly evenly spread. Several studies have found that individuals who experienced atypical odontalgia also suffered from depression and anxiety related disorders before pain’s onset. In most cases, it occurs within a short period of tooth extraction, root canals, or other procedures which temporarily expose the nerves within the gums and roots of the teeth.

Despite not knowing what causes atypical odontalgia, researchers have determined that it results from a “short circuiting” of the nerves. This causes the nerves to cause painful sensations as if the teeth were still present in the jaw. Sometimes it goes beyond the jaw to affect the face and neck as well. It functions in a similar fashion to phantom pain in missing limbs.

Treatment for Atypical Odontalgia

Currently, there is no cure for atypical odontalgia. In many cases, it goes away on its own after a few days or weeks. In some cases, it does not. It is typically diagnosed after all other options have been considered and no other cause has been determined. Once it is diagnosed, the traditional treatment is a pain management prescription. The most effective medications are tricyclic antidepressants, gabapentin, or baclofen.

For most patients, the condition fades with continued use of pain medications. The pain medications themselves do not always remove the pain, but they do make it manageable.

However, just because atypical odontalgia cannot be cured does not mean that a patient should not speak to his dentist if he is struggling with pain. It’s not uncommon to experience some minor discomfort after receiving new dentures since the mouth is getting used to them, but atypical odontalgia goes far beyond that. It starts off small and then increases for some while others experience sharp toothache like pains right from the start. A dentist can get the patient started on pain prescriptions to reduce the pain and also to ensure that there are no other reasons. Additionally, new cases and diagnoses of atypical odontalgia brings researchers closer to finding a more effective and comprehensive cure.

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