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Dental work typically teens' first exposure to opioids: study

Doctors adjusting doses, telling patients, parents to ask specific questions

SAN ANTONIO – Chances are, most people you know have had their wisdom teeth removed. 

It's those types of surgery that researchers now say are typically the first time kids and teens are exposed to opioids. 

OPIOID NATION: An American Epidemic

In fact, a new Stanford study shows dentists write 45 percent of opioid prescriptions for adolescents. 

Changes have been made to avoid addiction, and the patient and parent can be a big part of that. 

Doctors tread a thin line between wanting to help patients with pain and prescribing medicine amounts that can cause addiction. 

"Which is why the (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) has come up with recommendations for prescribing especially when it's short-term pain that we think we're going to be treating, post-surgical or dental procedures," said Dr. Marissa Charles. with Wellmed Healthcare.

She said it's a big deal. The nonprofit organization Shatterproof, which helps families with addiction, has even launched a national PSA on the subject.

Charles consults with many patients and families before and after procedures like dental surgery, making sure to explain recent research.

"It turns out that giving in a very specific, scheduled manner ibuprofen and acetaminophen, which are over-the-counter, non-opioid analgesics, can provide just as good pain relief in the majority of cases," Charles said.

Of course, there are situations when a narcotic is necessary, but strict regulations now limit the amount prescribed per day and the length of treatment. 

"We've learned any more than three days can lead to overuse and abuse in the future, especially in these young vulnerable teenagers," Charles explained.

This is a multifaceted effort. Even if a doctor does prescribe too many opioid pills, insurance companies can and do deny the prescription, instead approving smaller or shorter doses.

Charles suggests patients and parents take action too by asking their own questions:

  • What pain medications are going be prescribed? 
  • What amount is going to be prescribed?
  • How should the patient be taking it?
  • What alternative pain-relieving agents should they consider using?

Some people who have medical procedures take the allotted amount of medicine and still experience pain. Those patients should call their doctors and explain their symptoms. Further action may be required.