Rutgers University School of Dentistry will be heading a long-term study looking at whether non-addictive pain medications (acetaminophen and ibuprofen) are as effective as opioids after dental work. The National Institute of Health will be spending close to $12 million to fund the research, which will take place over several years and involve approximately 1,800 of the dental school’s patients.
Potential for Abuse Present with Opioids
Dr. Joseph Wineman, the former president of the Southern Nevada Dental Association, said he hopes the study will lead to some useful results. He noted that “[O]pioids always present the potential for prescription abuse.”
Dr. Wineman used the example of a patient who will find that one tablet isn’t providing the expected level of pain relief. That patient will then take five tablets, thinking that if one isn’t working “properly,” then increasing the dose must be the right solution.
He also stated that even the most painful dental procedures shouldn’t open up the door to drug dependency. Dr. Wineman said that having wisdom teeth removed shouldn’t be the cause of drug addiction, unless a patient “goes overboard” and takes all the medication they have.
Dentists Talk to Patients About Pain Management
The University of Las Vegas School of Dentistry teaches students and residents how to communicate with patients about appropriate pain management following common procedures such as tooth extractions, root canals or oral surgery. Part of the dentist’s scope of practice includes interviewing the patient and evaluating their level of pain, according to Dr. John Gallob, the Director of Faculty Dental Practice. He says that when pain medication is used appropriately, the likelihood of a dental patient becoming addicted is “incredibly rare.”
Dr. Wineman pointed out that dentists can check the Pharmacy Management Program (PMP) to ensure that a patient isn’t abusing potentially addictive pain medications. The PMP will tell the dentist whether their patient already has a prescription for opioids and if he recently picked up one for a certain number of pills. The dentist can prescribe pain medication for the dental procedure accordingly.
ADA Policy Recommends Non-opioid Pain Medications
Since 2011, the American Dental Association (ADA) has worked with its members to raise awareness about the potential harm that opioids can cause to dental patients and their families. It states that a growing number of studies support its policy that dentists should consider prescribing non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), either on their own or in combination with acetaminophen, as opposed to opioids as the first choice for acute pain management.