Dentists Play Key Role in Addiction Prevention March 22nd, 2019 The Recovery Village at Palmer Lake
Blog & News Dentists Play Key Role in Addiction Prevention

Dentists Play Key Role in Addiction Prevention

Dentists may prescribe opioids for patients after certain procedures.

Although efforts to combat opioid misuse and addiction have focused on physicians and their prescribing habits, another common reason opioids are prescribed is for severe dental pain when seeing a dentist or emergency medical professional.

In the 1990s, dentists prescribed over 15 percent of all opioids, but awareness of the opioid misuse epidemic led the dental community to reduce their opioid prescriptions to just 6.4 percent as of 2012. It’s not that dentists are letting their patients remain in pain; new studies have shown that other medications such as a combination of ibuprofen and acetaminophen can be as effective as some opioids at relieving dental pain. For others, opioids may be prescribed but for a shorter duration so that dependency doesn’t have as much time to develop.

Guidelines for Opioid Prescribing Among Dentists

While the American Dental Association does not have its own guidelines about prescribing opioids, it does refer dentists to other guidelines on medical opioid prescribing, such as the Johns Hopkins University model for prescribing opioids and several state association guidelines. These guidelines have helped dentists throughout the United States be more aware of the problems opioids can cause and helped dentists identify risk factors for opioid misuse that might exist among their patient populations.

Common recommendations given to dentists about prescribing opioids include:

Explore non-opioid treatments for dental pain. Before prescribing opioids, dentists can try other treatment options such as ibuprofen and acetaminophen combinations and natural therapies like acupuncture. It will be clear when these alternatives aren’t working effectively and opioids are needed.

Be aware of previous opioid misuse. As part of the patient history, dentists can ask questions about previous opioid misuse that could help them determine whether prescribing opioids presents a risk for that patient. Not all patients will be forthcoming about their previous misuse of opioids, so this may not be a complete solution in all cases.

Make patients aware of opioid risks and dangers. Not all patients are aware that opioids can be addictive, and some patients may decide not to take them once they are aware of the dangers. Others may make sure that they don’t take them longer than prescribed or at higher dosages. Awareness will also make patients less likely to try to get drugs they don’t need when they know that the dentist is aware of them and sees them as a red flag.

Monitor patients taking opioids for red flags. If patients exhibit behaviors consistent with opioid misuse like drug-seeking behaviors or continuing to take opioids beyond a reasonable duration for pain relief, dentists should provide treatment referrals and encourage the patient to get help from addiction treatment programs if needed.

By observing these general guidelines, dentists can greatly reduce the likelihood that opioids will be misused by their patients and can feel comfortable that their practice won’t contribute to the opioid crisis. For more information about opioid addiction, contact The Recovery Village Palmer Lake today.

Medical Disclaimer: The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider.