As you are no doubt aware, opioid addiction is a serious problem in America. Unbelievably, every 11 minutes, someone in the U.S. dies of an opioid overdose.
Pain medications prescribed after dental procedures are one pathway to opioid addiction. Some dentists and oral surgeons prescribe liberal quantities of opioids for pain after common procedures such as the removal of wisdom teeth, not warning patients of the dangers of opioid addiction. Worse yet, some practitioners refill these prescriptions numerous times.
Because they stimulate brain reward centers, opioids are highly addictive.
Opioids trigger the release of endorphins, feel-good chemicals in the brain. Endorphins mask pain and increase pleasurable feelings, creating a temporary, but strong sense of wellbeing. When an opioid dose wears off, a person wants those good feelings back, ASAP! An addiction can begin in just a few days, according to some researchers.
Opioid addiction after wisdom tooth removal
With five million Americans having their wisdom teeth removed every year, the connection between painkillers after the procedure and opioid addiction has come to the attention of national news outlets.
In an August, 2019, CBSNews report, Dr. Chad Brummett of the University of Michigan noted that even though research shows that a combination of acetaminophen and ibuprofen is effective to treat pain, dentists continue to prescribe opioids to young adults.
“…For many of these children, dental care is their first exposure to opioids,” said Brummett. “If we were to do some back-of-the-envelope math, something like 50,000 kids each year become new chronic opioid users after a procedure such as wisdom tooth extraction.”
Dr. Brummet found that filling a prescription for opioids more than doubled the odds of ongoing use among patients who had never used opioids for pain prior to getting their wisdom teeth removed.
Dr. Puckett’s solution
The American Dental Association recommends prescribing alternative pain relievers and only prescribing a seven-day supply (with no refills) when opioids are necessary. We go a step further at Wilmington Oral Surgery.
For many years now, our office has taken the initiative to encourage natural and homeopathic measures in order to minimize pain and accelerate healing. When opioids are necessary, we recommend using one-half of the narcotic dose with an anti-inflammatory such as Advil or Motrin.
Getting in front of pain
Many of our patients request homeopathic products and then report excellent results. For over ten years, we have used SockIt!, a natural cinnamon/clove/thyme gel, which reduces postoperative pain and essentially eliminates the risk of dry socket.
SockIt! contains only all-natural food ingredients, with nothing artificial. It has components from aloe vera, xylitol, and essential cinnamon, clove, and thyme oils. SockIt! is approved by FDA to be applied to any and all wounds in the mouth, and is covered by many insurance companies.
We also offer Stellalife VEGA products. Stellalife’s recovery kit (rinse, sublingual spray, and gel) is started two or three days prior to surgery and continues postoperatively for five to seven days.
A great benefit to the VEGA recovery kit is the preoperative use – we block the natural response to pain and inflammation before it starts. The kit won the 2019 Top Oral Healing Product Award. Independently evaluated and recommended by the Dental Advisor, it received a 91% clinical rating.
Discussing Pain Solutions
Before any procedure, our team discusses pain solutions with the patient. We make the patient and/or their parent aware of the risks and benefits of each option.
We believe it is part of our job to help patients and their parents understand how opioid addiction can develop after the use of opioids prescribed for pain, and to recommend alternatives.