Taking the Pain Out of Dental Work

Needles, Novocain and numb lips are passe for some dental patients. In lieu of local anesthesia to control discomfort during fillings and other procedures, they're dialing out their pain via a small, battery-operated device called a TENS unit.

Approved last month by the Food and Drug Administration for dental desensitization and anesthesia, the TENS unit--short for transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation--has been used for years to control chronic pain, said Stanley Malamed, an associate professor of anesthesia and medicine at the USC School of Dentistry.

To use the unit, the dentist first places two small electrode pads in the patient's mouth. Wires from the pads are then attached to a hand-held control and to a small unit that produces electrical impulses. The patient dials the control to increase the amount of painless electrical currents that pulse through the electrodes.

Overloading the Nerves

The device is believed to work by overloading the nerves with painless stimuli, explains Malamed, who is studying the unit. "A nerve can't carry two different types of stimulation to the brain at the same time. If enough of the painless stimulation gets to the brain, the pain impulse (from drilling or cleaning) can't get through. It's like a busy signal on the phone.

"It's a comfortable sensation," adds Malamed, who has tried the device himself and finds it just as effective as local anesthesia for certain procedures. It is best used, he said, during cleaning, drilling, filling and some periodontic (gum) procedures. Local anesthesia is still considered best, he notes, for procedures in which post-operative pain is expected.

About 2,000 dentists now use the device, Malamed estimates, up from about 1,000 a year ago. One TENS manufacturer maintains a toll-free hot line, (800) 648-0999, to answer questions and to refer consumers to dentists who use their unit.

Nutritional Fast Food

If you select toppings and underpinnings wisely, pizza's sinful reputation is unfounded, say some nutritionists.

"Pizza should not be looked at merely as an unhealthy, fast food," believes Helene Swenerton, a nutritionist based at the University of California, Davis. "If properly made, a pizza can be very nutritious, containing items from all four food groups."

Some of her suggestions: Use ample amounts of sauce but moderate amounts of cheese. As toppings, pour on onions, bell peppers and mushrooms freely, but use meats such as salami and pepperoni sparingly to curtail fat intake. Add a salad to the meal for nutritional balance and to reduce the number of pizza slices you need to feel full.

When you buy frozen pizzas, be wary of fat content, advises the Center for Science in the Public Interest, a Washington-based consumer advocacy group. In an October, 1987, survey of 16 pizza product lines, the center found that "more than three-quarters of the frozen pizzas have fat contents exceeding 30% of calories," said spokeswoman Maria Valero. (Keeping total daily fat intake to less than 30% of calories is recommended by the American Heart Assn. and many nutritionists.)

Head Lice Alert

To school administrators, they're pediculosis alerts. In laymen's terms, head lice infestations.

Whatever the name, they're no fun for parents or kids.

Pediculus humanus capitis , or head lice, are tiny parasitic insects--about 2-4 millimeters long--spread by human contact, explained Dr. Linda Reid, a clinical assistant professor of pediatrics at UCLA. Infestations are common among students, she said, because large numbers of children sometimes share jackets, combs and other articles.

To detect the lice eggs, called nits, look for white or whitish-yellow specks on the child's hair and scalp, Reid suggests. "Dandruff flakes will brush off easily, nits will cling."

Special shampoos are quick and effective. Two good bets, said Reid, are A-200 Pyrinate Pediculicide Shampoo or RID, both available over the counter. Follow-up treatment is sometimes recommended within 10 days. "Generally, no more than two treatments are necessary," she said. "After the first treatment, remove any objects (such as bedding) that may have been in contact (with the child) and wash them in very hot water or dry clean them. It's probably best to discard combs and brushes."

Fiber Pill Effectiveness

Are fiber pills "the healthy way to become slim and trim," as one manufacturer of the supplements suggests?

Not especially, said Kathryn J. Boyd, a registered dietitian at Saddleback Hospital and Health Center in Laguna Hills.

The high-fiber supplements are designed to be taken with a large glass of water about a half-hour before meals, filling you up so you eat less.

"The potential for harm (in taking fiber supplements) is relatively low," she said, "(but) there are potential side effects such as flatulence, intestinal gurgling and burping. And you could end up with either diarrhea or constipation."

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