The epidemic of opioid addiction is ravaging this country, and new research has pointed to a trouble spot few might have anticipated. Young people are at a greater risk of opioid addiction if they have been prescribed painkillers for the first time by their dentist.
Dentists write more than 30 percent of opioid prescriptions for those ages 10 to 19, often after the removal of wisdom teeth. An estimated 5 million Americans have undergone this procedure every year since 1999.
Stanford University researchers examined an insurance database of 15,000 young people who were prescribed opioids after having their wisdom teeth extracted. Within one year, nearly 6 percent of them had been diagnosed with opioid addiction, compared with less than 1 percent among those who were not given a prescription.
One important point to note was that only 27 percent of the subsequent opioid prescriptions came from dental clinicians, indicating that many were written for nondental issues.
The researchers suggested that dentists and oral surgeons use alternatives such as anti-inflammatory medications or long-acting local anesthesia. Another solution is to limit the quantity of pills dispensed. Some wind up with friends or family members, a sign that the quantity prescribed may be excessive.
The team said more studies are needed, but the lead author said the findings should trigger a question: Why are opioids prescribed so frequently by dental providers?