Opioids & Dentistry: It’s Not the Only Option

The topic of opioid addiction has been dominating headlines in the U.S. media lately. The American opioid epidemic has been an ongoing problem in recent years and it’s continuing to get worse.
In 2012, there were 259 million prescriptions written for opioid pain pills in the U.S. That’s enough for every single adult in the country to have their own bottle of pain pills. That’s a staggering statistic, and that was years ago. Opioid usage has only increased since then.
Identifying Opioids. Opioids are a class of drug that includes heroin and prescription painkillers, such as oxycodone (Percocet), hydrocodone (Vicodin), codeine, morphine, fentanyl, and many others.
Unlike over-the-counter pain medications, opioids cause impairment, making it dangerous to drive, operate other machinery, or drink alcohol while using them. If you’re not sure if a medication you’ve been prescribed is an opioid or not, ask your healthcare provider or your pharmacist.
Opioids and the Dentist. Dentists often prescribe painkillers to patients after procedures, such as extractions and root canals. These procedures cause tissue inflammation that can result in discomfort for a short period of time afterwards.
We know having work done on your teeth can make you sore and uncomfortable, and we want to make you as comfortable as possible. That’s why we prescribe painkillers. Unfortunately, some healthcare professionals often prescribe more than is absolutely necessary. This trend has been fuel for the opioid crisis.
Since each patient we treat is a unique individual, it can be a challenge to predict how many doses of pain medication a certain patient might need. At Shamblott Family Dentistry, if we prescribe an opioid pain pill, we give small doses and limited quantities. The goal is to make your pain manageable without creating any sort of dependency or leaving you with leftover pills, which can turn into a dangerous situation.
A Multifaceted Approach. Opioids should be looked at as a somewhat drastic measure in terms of pain management. I use a multi-pronged approach to help my patients through their recovery as comfortably and safely as possible.
Many patients will receive an anti-inflammatory drug to reduce pain and swelling, a steroid to further help with any pain and inflammation, and some form of pain medication. If opioids are not a good fit for a patient for any reason then they will not be prescribed. We don’t normally prescribe Percocet because it’s a very strong painkiller that isn’t necessary in most cases.
Healing Without Opioids. If you have a history of addiction (drugs, alcohol, prescriptions, or family history) or if you are simply not comfortable taking opioid pain medications, there are still lots of pain management options out there for you.
As I mentioned above, you may be given an anti-inflammatory and a steroid, both of which do a great job of masking pain as you heal. Another great (and surprisingly simple) way to reduce your pain is ice. I believe icing the affected area is the number one most important thing after a dental procedure. By using ice, you will help reduce swelling and pain. I promise it will make you feel better!
Things to Remember. Here are just a few more things to remember when considering your treatment options.

  • A history of any kind of addiction is a red flag. Opioids are an addictive substance! The risk is greater if you have a personal or family history of addiction. As your healthcare provider, we need to know this information so we can best help you, never to judge you.
  • Manage your expectations. Nothing is going to get rid of the pain completely; the medications we prescribe are meant to get you through the worst of it. It’s unrealistic to think that the pain will disappear completely with any prescription regimen, opioid or otherwise.
  • You don’t need to take all of your pain medication. I ask that my patients finish their anti-inflammatories and steroids, but please don’t feel pressured to finish any opioids you’re prescribed (from me or anyone else). Remember, they’re for any pain that can’t be managed with your other prescriptions and ice. You might not need to take any at all!

If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to call my office. We’re here to educate you, put you at ease, and help you stay as healthy as possible.
If you or a loved one are suffering from a drug addiction, please call the drug abuse hotline at 1-877-592-9191