Using Topical for Optimal Patient Comfort

March 29, 2021 Lee Ann Brady DMD

In a previous blog, I wrote about how we use multiple flavors of topical in my dental practice and the positive patient experience this creates. In this article, we will look at the topical application technique we use to create maximum patient comfort.

I have often debated in my mind whether topical actually makes patients feel more comfortable when anesthetic will be injected. The scientific literature confirms it works great on the surface of mucosa, but it does not reach nerves under the gums or in teeth. From working with my patients, I know it makes a difference to them in how they perceive the injection feels. And there are studies in which patients overwhelmingly self-report that the initial pinch feeling of the needle entering the tissue is reduced after topical.

Before applying topical, thoroughly dry the area so the topical goes directly on the tissue you want to numb. If topical is applied to saliva, its effectiveness is greatly reduced. Ideally, let the topical work for 60 seconds but minimally 30 seconds prior to beginning the injection. My technique is to thoroughly dry the mucosa, swab the dry area with topical, leave the cotton tip applicator in place against the mucosa, cover it with a 2×2, and have the patient close to hold it in place while I watch the clock for 60 seconds to make sure I am not rushing.

To deliver anesthetic I use The Wand computer-assisted anesthetic delivery technology. While I am waiting for the 60 seconds, I explain to the patient that the anesthetic delivery may be different than they have experienced before and how the anesthetic will be delivered.

In my last blog, I wrote about the value of offering patients a choice of topical flavors. I can also fill some of the 60 seconds by asking the patient if the topical administered tastes like the flavor of topical they selected. As soon as the 60 seconds have passed, I immediately remove the 2×2 and cotton tip applicator and begin delivering the anesthetic.

There is good science behind some types of topical acting faster than 60 seconds, so you may want to do some research and select one of these types.

Even if you think topical is not effective, think about the placebo effect topical has on the patient. We are doing something to improve their comfort. We are actively doing something to make the procedure more comfortable and to help them through the process. I believe this act of caring has value to the patient that even exceeds the value of the numbing effectiveness reported in clinical trials.

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Lee Ann Brady DMD

Dr. Lee Ann Brady is passionate about dentistry, her family and making a difference. She is a general dentist and owns a practice in Glendale, AZ limited to restorative dentistry. Lee’s passion for dental education began as a CE junkie herself, pursuing lots of advanced continuing education focused on Restorative and Occlusion. In 2005, she became a full time resident faculty member for The Pankey Institute, and was promoted to Clinical Director in 2006. Lee joined Spear Education as Executive VP of Education in the fall of 2008 to teach and coordinate the educational curriculum. In June of 2011, she left Spear Education, founded and joined the dental practice she now owns as an associate. Today, she teaches at dental meetings and study clubs both nationally and internationally, continues to write for dental journals and her website, sits on the editorial board of the Journal of Cosmetic Dentistry, Inside Dentistry and DentalTown Magazines and is the Director of Education for The Pankey Institute.

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