Dental procedures could be gateway for youth opioid addiction, study says

AUBURN, Wash. -- Opioids are commonly prescribed after major surgery, and a recent study published in the journal JAMA showed teenagers can be at risk of developing opioid addictions after dental procedures.

“We prescribe them on a fairly regular basis,” said Dr. Michael Johnson, an oral and maxillofacial surgeon at Pacific Northwest Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons. “I think in today’s society it’s important to know there are other options than just narcotics.”

Johnson says routine procedures like wisdom teeth removal are often the first-time teens get exposed to opioids, and chemical structures in their brains play a part in developing addictions.

“They’re opioid naïve, then they come into our office, so the first time they see that, they may have a higher chance of having the addictive personality,” said Johnson.

Dentists are the leading source of opioid prescriptions for children and teens, according to JAMA, which recently published a study showing almost 7 percent of teens and young adults who got first time opioid prescriptions went on to take more. Over 5 percent abused opioids.

“When we see patients come in and describe more pain than is typically the course of post-operative pain, we’re very cautious of prescribing more narcotics. Otherwise, you may notice your teenager asking for more than they need, so those could be potential warning signs,” said Johnson.

The CDC says 46 people die every day from overdoses involving prescription opioids, something the dentistry field is looking to prevent.

Johnson says there are new non-narcotic drugs which can be used after some dental procedures and raising awareness of teen addiction that can start from routine procedures is an important step to keep from adding to an opioid addiction epidemic.

He also says that parents should always hold onto medicine and give them to their child as prescribed. Johnson says it’s also a good idea to keep opioid painkillers away from easily accessible places like the medicine cabinet where guests and others can have access to them.