Third molar surgery is not an uncommon procedure. Many people undergo this dental procedure without suffering any complications. But for others, the lingual and inferior alveolar nerves can become injured, causing permanent sensory deficits to a person’s lower lip and tongue. There are theories suggesting that this type of injury, referred to as trigeminal nerve deficit, can lead to psychological problems and in particular, distress or depression. However, there is little evidence to support this theory.
In an effort to determine if trigeminal nerve deficit can lead to depression, and if so, how often does this occur, Yiu Yan Leung of the Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery Department at the University of Hong Kong recently conducted a study to using the Satisfaction with Life Scale (SWLS). The SWLS has been shown to accurately assess a person’s subjective life satisfaction. This tool is easy to administer and can help clinicians evaluate whether someone is at risk for mood issues or depression as a result of overall dissatisfaction with life.
Yan administered the SWLS to 49 participants, 24 of whom had received third molar surgery and experienced trigeminal nerve deficits. The SWLS results showed that those with deficits had significantly less satisfaction with life than those without. Further, the older participants with deficits had the highest levels of depressive symptoms.
Yan believes these results are clinically important for several reasons. First, the SWLS is an effective tool that can be easily administered to patients. It has been shown to be able to accurately assess global well-being and overall psychological health and satisfaction as opposed to only identifying temporary mental states. Second, “Older age of an individual with permanent trigeminal neurosensory deficit after lower third molar surgery appears to be related to the development of more depressive symptoms,” said Yan.
This finding suggests that perhaps third molar surgery should be considered at the earliest age possible. Finally, the scores of the at-risk individuals were equal to those reported in other studies by individuals with major traumas, such as spinal cord injuries or chronic pain. This fact underscores the importance of identifying those who experience depression as a result of this type of procedure because according to these results, their symptoms are significant.
Leung, Y.Y., Lee, T.C.P., Ho, S.M.Y., Cheung, L.K. (2013). Trigeminal neurosensory deficit and patient reported outcome measures: The effect on life satisfaction and depression symptoms. PLoS ONE 8(8): e72891. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0072891
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