Opioid Addiction and its Potential Link to a Common Dental Procedure

You go to the dentist with your teenager in tow, and you hear the words you knew were coming: It’s time for your child to have their wisdom teeth removed. It’s a common procedure, but one that is usually followed by a few days of pain – and potentially a prescription for painkilling opioids such as Vicodin® or Percocet®.

A study found 80 percent of people from ages 13 to 30, who had their wisdom teeth removed, filled an opioid prescription. And those who filled their prescription were nearly three timesOpens in a new tab as likely to continue to use opioids in the year following, which can lead to addiction to more powerful illicit drugs.

Dr. Robert Kantor, market chief medical officer for UnitedHealthcare of Minnesota, urges parents to ask questions and consider several tips to help reduce the risk of their children developing an opioid addiction.

“The first question to ask is: Do I really need to use this medicine at all?” Kantor said. “In some cases, alternative options provide sufficient pain management without the risk of addiction.”

If possible, Kantor recommends people talk to their dentist or oral surgeon about over-the-counter pain relievers instead, as recent studies show a combination of Ibuprofen and acetaminophen may provide Opens in a new tabequal or superior pain relief after wisdom teeth removal. If the dental professional does prescribe an opioid, Kantor says it is usually better to use only as needed.

“Try to keep the dose as low as possible to control the pain, and use it for as short a period as possible,” Kantor said. “The risk of addiction increases after just three days of use.”

UnitedHealthcare recently unveiled a prescription drug policy limiting all first-time opioid prescriptions written by dental health professionals to no more than three days and fewer than 50 morphine milligram equivalents per day, as recommended by the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC). The policy applies to those age 19 and younger.

Once your child has recovered from wisdom teeth removal, you may wonder what you should do with any leftover opioids. There are drop-off boxes for leftover medications in multiple locations around Minneapolis, including at police stations.

“If you have any leftovers, dispose of them securely,” Kantor said. “There are many options to consider, including returning them to the pharmacy where secure collection boxes are offered or mixing them in a zip-lock bag with an unappealing substance, such as used coffee grounds or kitty litter, and then throwing the bag away. Simply throwing opioids in the trash is not ideal, as the pills could be recovered and misused.”

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