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Designer teeth create headaches

Following is a media release from the New Zealand Society of Anaesthetists.

Sunday, October 12.

Designer teeth create headaches

Designer smiles are creating headaches for the country’s anaesthetists.

Nelson Hospital consultant anaesthetist Philip Cornish says anaesthetists are dealing with an increasing number of patients who have had mouthfuls of dental work done, sometimes amounting to hundreds of thousands of dollars worth.

As a result, they are increasingly faced with the dilemma of how to manage such patients under anaesthetic without damaging their teeth.

While anaesthetists take the utmost care whether patients have restored teeth or not, Dr Cornish says it’s more common to damage teeth that have been restored because healthy, normal teeth are very strong and very resilient.

Dr Cornish will discuss research on dental injuries in New Zealand at the international anaesthetists’ conference being held at the Wellington Convention Centre from October 11-14.

Every year in New Zealand about 70 patients file claims for dental injuries while under anaesthetic. About 250,000 people undergo anaesthesia a year in New Zealand.

“During the anaesthetic process we are required to access the windpipe and lungs through the mouth. We use special devices for this. Unfortunately, having something in the mouth does create the potential to cause damage.”

Dr Cornish says the incidence of anaesthetic-related dental claims has not risen nor fallen in the past 15 years despite more reconstructed teeth and better technology to help prevent such injuries.

He says the most common dental injuries are fractures. Injury, however, may not be immediately obvious. For instance, excessive pressure on a tooth may lead to the tooth dying but it’s a process that could take up to eight months to declare itself.

“Dental reconstruction is now a highly sophisticated industry. We increasingly face patients with implants, complex bridge, crown and other restorative work. It does cause headaches sometimes.

“It can be pretty nerve-wracking if you’re got a patient, as I’ve had, who has had $100,000 worth of reconstructive work done and quite reasonably doesn’t want any of it damaged.”

Just to add to the problem, Dr Cornish says dental injury during anaesthesia is the most common reason internationally for patients to sue anaesthetists. This probably relates to the importance of the smile, with teeth the central element.

Other topics to be discussed at the anaesthetists’ conference next month include ways to de-stress patients before surgery, particularly children and those with needle phobia, and medical emergencies mid-air.


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