Health Check: Dentists and the opioid epidemic


There’s a new front in the war against opioids -- dentists prescribing painkillers after certain procedures.

A recent study shows that for some, prescription has been the gateway to addiction.

“You take out a tooth, you give the gauze, you give the opioid, you give the antibiotic. But, now we're realizing that some of those practices aren't evidence-based," said Dr. Samuel Zwetchkenbaum, dental director for the health department's oral health program.

He said he is concerned about a study from 2015 that followed people between the ages of 16 to 25 who were prescribed an opioid by a dentist.

"They found after one year, just over five percent had seen a physician for an opioid related disorder,” said Zwetchkenbaum. "Increasingly, dentists and oral surgeons are aware of that. They're increasingly saying to patients, ‘We're not going to give you an opioid.’”

Instead, he produced a one page form that looks like a prescription.

“It helps dentists say to patients, ‘Take these medications at this specific time and you're going to get good results,’” he said.

The medicines include a combination of over-the-counter ibuprofen and acetaminophin, or Tylenol, which is something the American Dental Association endorses.

"And they found that that one is actually just as effective and, in many cases, more effective. And it's safer,” Zwetchkenbaum said.

Zwetchkenbaum is considering working with the Rhode Island Dental Association to come up with a questionnaire asking patients if they have a history of opioid use. That way, patients would not be exposed.

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