Study finds dental patients may be prescribed too many pain pills

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- New research finds U.S. dentists may be prescribing too many pain pills to patients when they have teeth pulled. Cutting back could be one way to reduce the opioid abuse problem.

Jamal Ross is about to have a wisdom tooth pulled at the UMKC School of Dentistry. The pain afterwards may not match what he's already had.

"Throbbing," Ross said.

He's taken a combination pill that contains hydrocodone, an opioid, and will get another prescription after the tooth is pulled.

A new study found the median number of hydrocodone pills dispensed to patients after extractions was 24. When oxycodone was prescribed, it was 16. Researchers say that's a lot of pills considering the intensity and duration of pain. All of those pills, in some people, could be the start of an addiction or lead to leftover pills getting into the hands of abusers.

"Is there a way to manage pain that does not require the use of so much opioids?"

Dr. Brett Ferguson of UMKC said that's been the question in recent years. The study covered the years 2000 to 2010. The oral surgeon said these days, dentists and oral surgeons are cutting back on the amount of opioid pills prescribed.

"Now we're starting to see patients receive up to 16 pills of an opioid and additional 16 pills of the non-steroidal," Dr. Ferguson said.

He said drugs like ibuprofen and naproxen can be used after the opioid or, in some cases, in place of it. Long-acting local anesthetic can also help reduce the need for an opioid.

"The more options, the better," Ross said.

"The delivery of medicine is individualized," Dr. Ferguson said.

So talk with your dentist or oral surgeon about what level of pain control will work for you for the particular dental procedure.

The study of Medicaid patients is in the Journal of the American Medical Association. It also found that teens and young adults are mostly likely to fill their opioid prescriptions after teeth are pulled. Young adults are the biggest abusers of opioids.

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