The Dangers of Opioids in Dental Practice

The current opioid crisis in America is fueled by many sources — people get their drugs from doctors, surgeons, family member’s medicine cabinets, the black market, and they get heroin on the street. But for many people, including teenagers, a first experience with prescription pain killers often comes from a visit to the dentist or oral surgeon.

Most dentists are responsible about the kind and number of drugs they dispense, but even with the best of intentions, medical professional can give too many pain pills too often to trusting patients. This is especially true in the dental profession, where a person’s medical history, including treatment for any mental illness or a family history or drug abuse, may not be completely clear. Understanding the highly-addictive nature of opioids and how much is too much, can help you or your loved one avoid drug dependence.

Opioids for Dental Pain

Some opioids are derived from naturally-occurring substances found in the opioid poppy plant. Other are created in a lab by scientist using the same chemical make-up found in the plant.1 Two examples of natural opioids are opium and morphine. Synthetic opioids are recognized by brand names and generic names. Some of these include the following:

  • Hydrocodone
  • Vicodin
  • OxyContin
  • Fentanyl2

Opioids are used to control pain after surgery, injury or to manage pain caused by a chronic condition. Opioids work on opiate receptors in the brain, changing the way the body perceives pain. Opioids also produce feelings of euphoria in the user, which can quickly lead to drug cravings and dependence. One of the first signs of opioid dependence is when you or a loved one need the drug for pain before the next dose is due or need more of the drug to produce the same effect as when you first took it.

Dentist and oral surgeons often prescribe opioids after a dental procedure, such as a root canal, wisdom tooth extraction or the placing of dental implants. Talk to your dentist about the best way to manage pain after these procedures, including how much of the prescription you should plan to use and how to manage pain in other ways, including ice packs, heating pads and over-the-counter options.

Look closely at your prescription and make sure your dentist or oral surgeon isn’t prescribing too much. Thirty pills is the normal amount dispensed with no refills. Ask your dentist if he or she would be willing to write only half a prescription or less with the option to call and ask for more if needed. This is the best way to keep the number of opioids in your home at one time under control. If you have a dental procedure and the pain is not improving or it’s getting worse after a few days, this could indicate a problem that requires a follow-up visit.

Recognizing Opioid Addiction

With the prevalence of prescription pain medications being dispensed by dentists, oral surgeons and other dental professionals, it’s important to know the signs of opioid dependence. If you or your loved one uses opioids after a dental procedure, look for the following symptoms of a developing addiction:

  • Needing more of the drug for added pain relief before the next dose is due
  • Becoming preoccupied with getting and using the drug
  • Needing a supply of the drug on hand at all times
  • The appearance of withdrawal symptoms when the drug is stopped
  • Changes in mood or behavior
  • Engaging in dangerous behaviors, like driving, while under the influence of the drug
  • Participating in illegal activities, like stealing, to get more of the drug
  • Withdrawing from friends, family and favorite activities
  • Becoming more involved in the drug culture2

Even one of theses symptoms can indicate a need for treatment right away. Recognizing you have a problem is the first step on the road to recovery.

Treatment for Opioid Addiction

If you or someone you love is battling a prescription drug addiction, call The Oaks at La Paloma at our toll-free helpline now. Our admissions coordinators are available 24 hours a day to answer any questions you have about available treatment options, financing or insurance.

1Opioids.” National Institute on Drug Abuse, NIDA. Accessed Apr.20, 2018.

2 “Prescription Opioids.” National Institute on Drug Abuse, NIDA, 25 Jan. 2018.

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