Researchers at the Rutgers School of Dental Medicine (RSDM) are exploring a way to reduce the need for opioid prescriptions by injecting an anesthetic to reduce jaw muscle pain after wisdom tooth extraction.
In a clinical pilot study funded by the New Jersey Health Foundation, co-principal investigators Dr. Gayathri Subramanian and Dr. Brahmleen Kaur will examine whether “twin block” injections alleviate facial pain that can result from patients having their mouths propped open under sedation.
The researchers have used these injections, called “twin block” because they numb two jaw muscle nerves on the side of the face, to successfully treat chronic facial pain.
Fellow RSDM researcher Dr. Samuel Quek, who also is working on this study along with research associate Shuying Jiang, discovered that one injection can reduce pain for several days or even weeks.
“This is the first time we’re studying it systematically to treat acute pain,” said Subramanian.
Wisdom tooth extraction is one of the most common reasons adolescents and post-adolescents are prescribed opioids, RSDM said. According to Subramanian, more than 3.5 million young adults are prescribed opioids to manage their pain, which often includes aches from sore jaw muscles.
Funded by a $7,300 seed grant, the study will involve 50 patients who would be surveyed one day after surgery to see if they have jaw muscle pain. Those who do will be injected either with “twin block” or a placebo and will keep a one-week record of their pain levels and the medications they take for managing their pain.
If results are promising, Subramanian and Kaur hope to receive funding for a larger study, Subramanian believes the “twin block” injection could be a simple and inexpensive way to address the opioid epidemic.
“In terms of public health, a small change in the way we treat these patients can have a big impact” Subramanian said. “If applied on a large scale, it can help nip addiction in the bud.”