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J Oral Maxillofac Surg. 2005 Aug;63(8):1130-7.

Pain medication as an indicator of interference with lifestyle and oral function during recovery after third molar surgery.

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Department of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery, School of Dentistry, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, NC, USA.


Purpose This study was designed to assess the impact of taking pain medications, as a more comprehensive indicator of perceived pain, on the extent of interference with lifestyle and oral function during recovery after third molar surgery. Patients and Methods Recovery data after the removal of 4 third molars were available for patients enrolled in an institutional review board-approved, prospective, multicenter clinical trial. A self-administered health-related quality of life instrument, designed to assess a patients perception of recovery for pain, lifestyle, and oral function, was completed each postsurgery day (PSD) for 14 days. Taking pain medications was a proxy for a patients perceived level of pain, adding a more sensitive behavioral component to the report of pain. Each PSD day, the patients who thought that their pain was sufficient to require taking medications (an opioid, a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory, or the combination) were compared with patients not taking pain medications. The extent of interference in lifestyle (daily activity, social life, recreation, sleep) and in oral function (eating, chewing, mouth opening) as self-reported on a scale of 1 (no trouble) to 5 (lots of trouble) were compared for those taking and not taking medications using Cochran-Mantel-Haenszel row mean statistics ( P < .05). Results The 445 study patients were mostly female (63%) and white (86%). Median age was 20 years (IQ, 18, 24 years). Median surgery time was 30 minutes (IQ, 20, 40 minutes). Both mandibular third molars were below the occlusal plane in 60%. Almost all patients took pain medication on PSD 1. By PSD 7, 48% of patients were taking pain medication, decreasing to 20% by PSD 11. Patients with pain sufficient to take an analgesic reported a greater extent of interference for all lifestyle and oral function measures. Recovery was significantly delayed for PSD 2 through 14 for patients who took medications ( P < 0.01). Recovery for females taking pain medications was significantly delayed compared with that for males. Conclusions Patients with pain sufficient to prompt taking pain medications were likely to report interference with recovery for lifestyle and oral function. A patients choice to take pain medication appears to be a better indicator of a patients perceived pain and the impact of that pain on recovery than numerical pain scales. This method provides more sensitive behavioral information during the period of recovery after third molar removal.

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