Dealing With Dental Pain


The most common cause of disability in the United States is pain. If you didn’t know that, you’re in good company. In a recent telephone survey of 1,000 adult Americans nearly two-thirds of survey respondents cited medical conditions other than pain as the primary cause of disability in the United States.

September is National Pain Awareness Month, and the Partners for Understanding Pain, a consortium of more than 50 organizations that have an interest in pain and its effects, are working to help the more than 50 million Americans who suffer from chronic pain, along with the additional 25 million who experience acute pain caused by injury or surgery. The consortium also hopes to raise awareness on how we can all best support people who live with pain.

Pain is a both a public health and economic issue:

  • Pain costs $100 billion annually in lost work days, medical expenses and other benefit costs (National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health),


  • Pain personally affects one in three Americans (Partners for Understanding Pain survey).


  • Pain causes more disability than cancer and heart disease combined (National Medical Association).


“The Partners for Understanding Pain want to raise awareness of both the medical and socioeconomic impacts of pain. Pain and its consequences are issues of unrecognized significance,” said Penney Cowan, executive director of the American Chronic Pain Association (ACPA), which is spearheading Partners for Understanding Pain.

“Access to care also is an issue. Skyrocketing health care costs leave some, especially seniors, minorities, and the urban and rural poor, unable to get the help they need to manage their pain.”

“While pain is often a natural response to illness or injury, there are a number of techniques and medications that can help us manage our pain more effectively, which in turn can aid recovery and improve quality of life,” said Daniel B. Carr, M.D., Professor of Pain Research at Tufts-New England Medical Center.

Some Facts About Pain

In the telephone study noted above, most respondents (43 percent) believed that a typical person with ongoing pain is an adult age 65 or older. In fact, anyone can develop chronic pain, and 80 percent of those who have chronic pain are in the adult 24 to 64 age group, according to The Arthritis Foundation.

The majority of respondents also agreed or agreed strongly that people sometimes exaggerate their pain to get drugs (83 percent), avoid work (84 percent) or get attention (86 percent).

In fact, few people exaggerate their pain for any reason, Cowan said. However, since pain is an invisible disability, it’s impossible to know how much pain someone is experiencing by observing him or her.

“People sometimes use pain behavior (grimacing, grabbing their backs, groaning) because they fear that their caregivers or families will not believe that their pain is real,” Cowan said. “That’s one reason we convened Partners for Understanding Pain – to open up a dialogue about pain and encourage greater understanding about its impact.”

Dental pain

Pain caused by dental health issues plagues all of us at one time or another. According to the World Health Organization (WHO) 60–90% of school children and nearly 100% of adults worldwide have dental cavities, often leading to pain and discomfort.

Tooth decay is the most prevalent chronic disease in both children and adults, according to National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research, even though it is largely preventable. Eighty percent of the U.S. population has some form of periodontal gum disease, while 15–20% of adults have severe periodontal disease.

Periodontal disease often results in tooth loss and persistent pain, and has been connected with health issues such as cardiac problems, diabetes, chronic digestive and respiratory issues, low energy and a host of other medical complications.

To help avoid oral diseases, WHO recommends:

  • Decreasing sugar intake and maintaining a well-balanced nutritional intake to prevent tooth decay and premature tooth loss;
  • Consuming fruit and vegetables
  • Stopping tobacco use and decreasing alcohol consumption to reduce the risk of oral cancers, periodontal disease and tooth loss
  • Ensuring proper oral hygiene
  • Using protective sports equipment to reduce the risk of facial injuries

Seeing a dentist regularly for checkups and cleanings, as well as addressing problems such as cavities and other dental diseases promptly is also essential for dental health and overall wellness.

Bacterial plaque is the primary cause of 90% of all dental disease. Bacteria secrete acidic waste products. This creates an acidic environment in your mouth that weakens teeth and leads to decay. Over time, without proper oral hygiene and dental care, the plaque clinging to teeth works its way under the gums, resulting in oral infections.

Your best defense is consistent removal of the bacterial plaque. If its left alone for about 48 hours, it begins to harden – this is called tartar – and is extremely difficult to remove by simple brushing and flossing. You need professional cleanings to remove tartar. If you’ve been skipping cleanings and checkups due to budget issues, check out dental savings plans. With a plan, you can  save 10%-60% on a wide variety of preventive dental care —including cleanings, checkups and x-rays—and restorative treatments.

Find out more about dental savings plans at, or by calling 1-800-238-5163.


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