Dentists and Opioid Prescriptions


We are regularly and frequently reminded these days that we are in the midst of an opioid epidemic. In the midst of efforts to ascribe blame (or partial blame) for the situation, some have suggested that dentists have played a large

opioids storyblocks SM

role in creating this situation. We should also note that non-opioid painkillers are also being misused and over-used. This could suggest that prescribers of painkillers are not solely responsible for the abuse of any pain medications. Perhaps the question to ask is why so many people feel the need to abuse over-the-counter, prescription, opioid, and street drugs to “manage pain.”

What do we know about use of opioids in dentistry?

First, it should be remembered that all dentists are not the same, and they do not necessarily treat patients in the same way, especially with regard to pain management. In fact, many dentists do not prescribe prescription drugs of any kind for pain.

Second, after researchers analyzed the quantity of opioids prescribe over a 15-year period. They calculate both the number of prescriptions and the total milligrams of morphine equivalent drugs prescribed. Their finding: As of 2012, dental professionals prescribed only about 2% of the total quantity of opioids, while office-based physicians prescribed 80%.

Finally, the analysis revealed that the quantity of opioids prescribed by dentists has decreased from 7% in 1996 to only about 2% in 2012. There were flaws in the study, yet the relative proportion of prescriptions written by dentists is very small.

The bottom line: If you have dental work or a dental problem and need pain medication, do not be surprised when you are prescribed a non-opioid painkiller by your dentist. Further, if you are prescribed an opioid for pain, be aware that your condition will be monitored carefully and the prescription will be refilled only when clearly warranted. In many cases, the anti-inflammatory properties of other pain medications may play a larger role in reducing your pain than you expect.