Fillings and drillings can be a buzz for patients of Ellicott City dentist

August 03, 1993|By Sherry Joe | Sherry Joe,Staff Writer

Ellicott City dentist Eugene Sambataro doesn't have to use needles to anesthetize his patients -- he can employ electricity from a nine-volt battery.

Dr. Sambataro uses a device, about the size of a Sony Walkman, that blocks pain by sending electric waves through two self-adhesive electrode pads that attach to a patient's face.

The technique is called TENS, for transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation. Although first used in dentistry in the 1970s, it has only recently gained broader acceptance as the machines have gotten better, cheaper and smaller.

Advocates of electronic dental anesthesia say the technique can FTC be used on patients who fear needles, and enables patients to control the machine. And unlike novocaine injections, it doesn't leave patients feeling numb after a trip to the dentist.

"It's a more comfortable technique," Dr. Sambataro said. "There are no side effects at all. No numbness, no tingling, nothing."

But some dentists say that electronic anesthesia is ineffective, limited in use, and takes too much time to set up and explain to patients.

"For shallow fillings, it works fine," said Dr. Kevin Doring, who has private practices in Ellicott City and Edgewater. "It's probably very effective for simple procedures that don't involve a lot of drilling."

Dr. Doring said he has used electronic anesthesia on patients but was sometimes forced to give them novocaine injections halfway through the procedure when they continued to complain of pain.

"For a majority of fillings that are deep, it is not enough," Dr. Doring said.

Electronic anesthesia cannot be used on some patients, including persons with pacemakers and cochlear implants, since the electric impulses will cause the medical devices to malfunction.

Columbia resident Jeff Fetterhoff used electronic anesthesia for the first time last week when he received a filling.

"I had no idea really what to expect," Mr. Fetterhoff said. "I had nothing to base my pain on."

Mr. Fetterhoff said he had to wait until he could detect pain from the drilling before he knew how much electrical stimulation he needed to dull it.

"You do get some pain from the drilling at first," said Mr. Fetterhoff, who said he had some initial doubts about the technique. But the real reward came after the procedure, he said.

"You don't have the big feeling in your mouth" from novocaine, he said. "I would use it again."

Dr. Sambataro said about 50 percent of his patients use electronic anesthesia. "It's been more accepted than I thought," he said.

For the past two years, Dr. Sambataro has used electronic anesthesia to replace fillings, scale gum tissue or deep clean patients' teeth. He said he has not used it for major procedures -- yet.

"You could use it for root canals, [but] I haven't tried," he said.

Electronic anesthesia has gained popularity in the past four to five years, Dr. Sambataro said. He said dentists have been slow to accept the technique because they are suspicious of its effectiveness and were reluctant to use earlier models that were unwieldy.

"You had to place tabs in the mouth," Dr. Sambataro said of an early machine that required electrodes to be placed in the patient's mouth. "It was very cumbersome and difficult to keep dry."

The older machines were also larger.

"The old unit was the size of a boom box," Dr. Sambataro said. "The new one fits in the palm of your hand."

New machines cost about $350, require $2 disposable electrode

pads, and run on nine-volt batteries. Older models used to cost about $2,000.

Will electronic anesthesia replace needles and numbness?

"It does have limited usage, but it's not going to replace getting a needle any time soon," Dr. Doring said. "It's not the cure-all."

In the meantime, Dr. Sambataro is giving patients a choice between needles or electrical nerve impulses.

"More people complain about the numbness after the operation than the shot," Dr. Sambataro said. "This is nice."

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