Is it time US dentistry ended its opioid dependence?

Martin H. Thornhill, Katie J. Suda, Michael J. Durkin, Peter B. Lockhart

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

21 Scopus citations


Background: In 2017, 11.4 million US citizens misused prescription opioids, resulting in 46 overdose deaths daily and a $78.5 billion burden on the economy. Dentists are one of the most frequent prescribers of opioids, and there is concern that dental prescribing is contributing to the opioid crisis. Methods: A 2019 study showed 22.3% of US dental prescriptions were for opioids compared with 0.6% of dental prescriptions in England where nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and acetaminophen accounted for most analgesic prescriptions. This observation prompted a review of international analgesic prescribing habits and of the advantages and disadvantages of opioids and NSAIDs for treating dental pain. Results: US opioid prescribing far exceeded that in other countries where NSAIDs accounted for most dental analgesic prescribing. Furthermore, results from reviews published respectively in 2018 and 2016 help confirm that NSAIDs and NSAID-acetaminophen combinations are as effective as or more effective than opioids for controlling dental pain and cause significantly fewer adverse effects. Conclusions: In light of the potential for misuse and evidence that NSAIDs are as effective as opioids and have fewer adverse effects, there is clear patient benefit in avoiding opioids for the prevention or management of dental pain. Practical Implications: A growing preponderance of evidence shows that opioids are not needed for routine oral health care. This article provides an overview of the evidence and outlines possible pain management models to minimize opioid use in dentistry. The purpose is to stimulate debate about this important topic and encourage the development of definitive guidance by professional bodies, health care providers, and state and federal agencies.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)883-889
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of the American Dental Association
Issue number10
StatePublished - Oct 2019


  • Odontogenic pain
  • acetaminophen
  • analgesic
  • dental
  • guidelines
  • nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs
  • opioid
  • opioid crisis
  • postoperative analgesia


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