In a new study, researchers found that as dentists and their teams across America get back to their regular schedules after a sharp COVID-19-related reduction, they should use this opportunity to reduce the use of opioid painkillers by their patients.
The research was conducted by a team from the University of Michigan.
The analysis of four years’ worth of data from two million patients shows that those who had dental procedures on a Friday or a day before a holiday were much more likely to fill a prescription for an opioid than other patients.
Teens and young adults were the most likely to get opioids, which were likely prescribed in order to get them through the weekend or holiday break without needing to contact the dentist for pain care.
One in five of the patients, all between the ages of 13 and 64, filled a prescription for an opioid, even though non-opioid pain medications are equally effective at controlling pain and have lower risks.
Those who had pre-weekend or pre-holiday procedures were 27% more likely to pick up an opioid prescription. If they were teens or young adults, they were 43% more likely than older patients to do so.
The new findings build on prior work showing overprescribing of opioids by dentists with no increase in pain relief or patient satisfaction.
The rate of the weekend and holiday opioid prescription-filling by young people is especially troubling because of previous work showing that those who get opioids after getting their wisdom teeth out are nearly three times as likely to keep refilling the prescription long after their mouths should have healed.
The team says that variation in opioid prescription fills may put some patients at increased risk.
Now that doctors understand that dental opioid prescription fills were increased on Fridays and before holidays, they can create and disseminate best practices to avoid unnecessary prescribing.
Other studies have shown that educating patients about the risks of taking opioids, and the proper use of NSAIDs and other pain relievers, before their procedure, can reduce opioid use without increasing their pain scores.
The lead author of the study is Caitlin Priest, a U-M Medical School student.
The study is published in the Journal of the American Dental Association.
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