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  • Janice Janssen, RDH, CFE

Dentistry and the Opioid Epidemic

Updated: Oct 29, 2021

As I was preparing to write my article this month I thought, I wonder if I should talk about the opioid epidemic again. I know I have done an article about that before but maybe I could expand on it. What I did not realize was that the article I wrote was in December of 2017. It doesn’t seem like it has been 2 years ago. I decided it would be good to go and do some research to see if anything has changed since that last article. I am happy to say that there have been some changes.

Since my last article, the ADA has supported mandatory continuing education courses for prescribing opioids and other controlled substances. It is a little surprising that this was not mandatory before 2018. Prescribing medications is a big responsibility for anyone to take on and of course it is covered in depth when doctors are in school, but things change so quickly that it is of great importance to keep up to date on all subjects pertaining to prescriptions.

There has been such a shift in the opioid landscape over the past decade that it is good to see that we as a dental community are shifting with it. Hence the importance of continuing education credits being required. This is the best way to keep up to date with what we need to know about any changes that are occurring.

The ADA is also supporting limits on prescribing pain relief medications for no more than 7 days. Did you know that dentists prescribe 45% of all initial opioids prescribed to a patient? That means that 45% of patients have not had any prior experience with pain killers prior to being prescribed one by their dentist. Therefore, we need to be very diligent with what we prescribe, when we prescribe it and not giving more than is going to be needed.

Patients that require opioids to control their dental pain should absolutely receive the medication. There is no question about that as we do not want our patients to suffer in pain. I, for one, had dry sockets when I got my 3rd molars extracted and needed the pain medications that I received. We just need to be careful about either overprescribing the amount that the patient is going to require along with prescribing it to patients that could take a less potent pain medication.

Lastly, the ADA is working to support improving the quality of state prescription monitoring programs. This will only make all your jobs easier to ensure that patients are staying healthy and are not traveling down a road to dependence or addiction. We have to take responsibility and play our role in combatting this epidemic. The prescription drug monitoring programs will help all doctors in doing that.

What are your thoughts on dentistry’s role in combatting the opioid crisis? I would love to hear from you. Send me an email at

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