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Electrical Vibrations Block Dental Pain

September 16, 1985

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) _ By twisting a knob on a little black box, Richard Kindy was able to block the pain as his dentist cleaned out a large cavity and filled his tooth.

Kindy had not been given pain-killing drugs before Dr. Dennis Hogan began working on his tooth. He was trying a new system that blocked his perception of pain by electrically stimulating his nerves.

The makers of the patient-controlled device expect it to replace injection of drugs to block pain in many dental patients once it gains federal approval.

All Kindy felt as the dentist worked was pressure and a tingling sensation underneath his right eye, where an electrode was attached to his facial skin.

″I wouldn’t have known whether he was working in and around a nerve or not. I didn’t feel a thing,″ said Kindy, 58, of St. Louis Park, Minn. ″I was not aware of pain.″

The system combines the technology of Medical Devices Inc. of St. Paul, which produces the electrical stimulator, and LecTec Corp. of suburban Minnetonka, maker of a synthetic tape that adheres to the skin and transmits electrical impulses to stimulate nerves.

Bruce MacFarlane, a scientist and director of clinical services for Medical Devices, said the use of electrical stimulation in dentistry is an adaptation of the TENS system widely used to block chronic pain and to make patients more comfortable following surgery.

″It’s stimulating nerves. How that interferes with the perception of pain simply is not known,″ MacFarlane said. ″What we do know is that in chronic pain, especially in acute pain, it is clinically effective.″

He said components of the system had been approved separately by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Approval of the complete unit for marketing is expected to be routine, he said.

The Association for Advancement of Medical Instrumentation sets standards for recommended maximum output of electrical stimulation devices, he said. ″Ours is only 20 percent of their recommended maximum, and that maximum has a safety factor built in.″

Controlled scientific testing of the system is scheduled to begin Oct. 1 at the University of Minnesota Dental School. MacFarlane predicted that national marketing would begin March 1.

Hogan has used transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation, or TENS, on about 200 patients over the past two years, as part of preliminary tests.

″At this time, we’re using it mainly for fillings, some crown preparations and in the treatment of periodontal disease,″ he said. ″Most of these situations usually require the injection of Novocain.″

Hogan said about 130 million dental procedures each year in the United States include injection of a pain-killing drug.

″This would not replace all of those,″ he said. ″At this point, we’re not recommending that it be used for extractions.″

Hogan said there was no lingering effect such as numbness, and patients who use TENS can go right from the dentist’s chair to a speaker’s platform or drink a cup of coffee without having it dribble from numbed lips.

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