Opiate pain killers in dentistry – a deep look at a serious topic

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It is not uncommon for people to dislike a visit to the dentist, but some people genuinely dread it. According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), between 5 and 10 percent of people have “dental phobia,” which is an acute fear of seeing the dentist. Another 60 percent experience anxiety about a dental visit. One of the primary reasons people don’t like trips to the dentist is the fear of pain, the pain they might feel during any dental procedure, and the pain they might experience after the procedure as their mouth heals. As a result, it is not uncommon for dentists to prescribe opiates—powerful narcotics such as oxycodone, hydrocodone, and codeine, after a dental procedure to help reduce the pain a patient experiences while healing.

The problem with this “solution” is that these opiate painkillers are highly addictive, which can turn an unsuspecting patient into an opiate addict. David Bell, CEO of USA Mobile Drug Testing, explains:

“Opiate addiction can strike many well-meaning people who are prescribed this powerful medication to manage intense pain because the longer a person takes it, the more tolerant they will become, thus requiring a higher dose to achieve the same results.”

When a dentist prescribes an opiate painkiller to a patient, especially without explicitly warning them of the addiction risks, he or she is potentially putting that patient at-risk to become addicted to the drug.

Unfortunately, the abuse of opiate painkillers has become such a severe problem in America that the President has declared it a “national emergency.” Research from the Center for Disease Control (CDC) shows that as of 2016, there were over 2 million people in America who were abusing or dependent on prescription opiate painkillers. The CDC also reported that every single day, there more than 1,000 people who need to receive emergency room care because of prescription opiate misuse, and as of 2010, there were more than 214 million separate prescriptions for opiate painkillers. This number is enough to mediate all adults in America around the clock for 30 days.

Bell says that “According to the CDC, from 1999 to 2015, more than 183,000 people have died due to an overdose on opiates. That number continues to rise to the point where in 2016 alone, more than 53,000 people in the United States died from opiate painkiller abuse.”

Because of the frightening statistics, dentists should display extreme caution when prescribing opiate painkillers, especially for long periods of time. The American Dental Association (ADA) has even taken a proactive role in helping dentists to educate patients about the dangers of opiates to reduce the likelihood of them becoming addicted.

In 2016, the ADA stated that, among other things, highly encouraged dentists to use non-narcotics as the first remedy for acute dental pain. When a dentist does decide that a patient needs a medication stronger than an over-the-counter option, such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen, he or she must use extreme caution before prescribing an opiate.

Hopefully, the patient is forthright with his or her medical history, especially if in recovery from an addiction or if addiction runs in the family. But even if the patients do not offer any of their medical histories, the dentist does have a responsibility to make sure many the potential dangers of opiate abuse are clear. Some issues the dentist should be sure the patient understands include: what is the goal of the prescription, how long the patient should be taking the opiates, what the risks associated with opiate painkiller medications are, and what should do with any excess medication.

Dentists play an important role in keeping prescription opiate painkillers from becoming a source of abuse in the community. If a dentist suspects a patient is suffering from opiate abuse, he or she can suggest that person seek out a medical professional who specializes in treating opiate addictions.  These medical professionals are trained specially to assist people who abuse opiates by offering emotional support as well as a treatment plan that may include anything from additional medications to just implementing a healthy diet and exercise into that person’s daily routine.

A reminder to both dentists and opiate painkiller abusers: help is always available, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. So don’t allow opiate painkillers to ruin the lives of patients or harm the community.


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Irene Peters
Irene Peters
20:05 09 Dec 17
Dr. Carroll has state-of-the-art equipment and can do it all. I was able to get my new crown replaced on the same day with only the one visit. I've been going there for years and never had to wait past my appointment time. The office staff are all friendly, helpful, efficient, prompt, and make you feel at home and more importantly, comfortable. Dr. Carroll remembers details from prior visits and always follows up on them. A real bonus for me is that he has a way with giving the shots to numb your mouth without it hurting! I'm very grateful for the excellent care I get from Dr. Carroll and his staff.
Audrianna Daniel
Audrianna Daniel
16:55 25 Jan 18
I had such a wonderful experiance at this office! Switching from another local dentist was the best decision I ever made. Shanel, the hygienist, was absolutely amazing and Dr. Carroll was incredibly down to earth and attentive to any questions or concerns. The whole staff is just awesome and I can't recommend this office enough!
Carla Wolfe
Carla Wolfe
00:59 14 Jun 17
I was terrified of the dentist from past bad experience. My daughter had a traumatic experience at a local dentist as well. We have both started seeing Dr. Carroll and have had the most comfortable, reassuring experience. They are kind, knowledgeable and patient!! Thank you Dr. Carroll and Staff!! Second visit - 2/4/16 - Deep Clean Procedure and a Wisdom tooth extraction - Again, I can't say enough about my visit. The staff from the moment you walk in the door are professional and friendly. My procedure was 99.5% pain free and the extraction was 100% pain free. I was given information every step of the way and was made to feel comfortable at all times. This is an office with compassion, caring and understanding. I highly recommend this practice. I can't say thank you enough for the positive experience and dental work. Thank you!!
Lucinda Fox
Lucinda Fox
03:05 21 Jun 17
I have had an excellent experience with Dr. Carroll over the past -I have been with him since he started practice in Yuma. He and his staff have always treated me professionally and respectfully. I say 'had' because I just moved out of state and now I hope to find a new dentist as skilled as Dr. Carroll. My last visit was a highlight for me. He gave me a brand new, much improved smile by replacing my top front six teeth with crowns made by him on site. The change is amazing and I say "thank you Dr. Carroll!"
Sandy Baas
Sandy Baas
19:00 19 Oct 17
Sam Carroll , DMD, is knowledgable about all the latest and most effective dental procedures and treatment to make you SMILE... I have seen a caring and gentle approach with the very young patients ( My Grandaughter) and the concern he had with my 90 year old Father. Very comfortable yet professional atmosphere at all times!
Jill Castaneda
Jill Castaneda
20:20 21 Sep 17
Thank you for getting my son in and removing his wisdom tooth today. I would also like to thank you for the amazing service we received from everyone in the office and especially Dr. Carroll!! We couldn't have asked for a better experience. Dr. Carroll and his staff are the best.
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