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Dentists, Vicodin and Your Teen: A Look at Prescribing Habits

Extracted tooth

It is not uncommon for people to view dental visits with a sense of dread. Teenagers who get wisdom teeth pulled worry about the pain and discomfort they will experience after their surgery. Their parents may be more concerned about the possibility of their teen becoming dependent on post-op prescription pain medication.

Can Teens Get Addicted to Pain Meds After a Tooth Extraction?

Addiction stemming from post-dental surgery prescription opioids, which are among the top drugs misused by teens, is rare but does happen in some cases. The intentions of dentists are to alleviate postoperative pain, which is why they may prescribe opioids in an effort to address the worst-case pain scenarios of their patients. Historically, it has been standard practice to provide patients with at least 20 tablets of opioid medication to aid in their recovery after their tooth extraction.

Dental patient

Vicodin and Its Use by Dentists

In recent years, the most commonly-prescribed medication by oral surgeons has been Vicodin, which combines the opioid hydrocodone with the analgesic acetaminophen. Typical use instructions call for the patient to take one Vicodin every four to six hours as needed for pain management.

The efficacy of Vicodin and similar medications for post-surgical patients has been common knowledge among dentists since the 1970s, which is why the dental industry’s guidelines recommended Vicodin’s use. However, these guidelines were established at least 10 years before the medical community understood the potency and effectiveness of other analgesic medications.

A Better Way to Manage Pain

Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, or NSAIDs, are the class of medications which include ibuprofen, aspirin and naproxen, all of which can be obtained without a prescription. Patients who take NSAIDs for pain generally are not affected by adverse side effects like nausea, vomiting or constipation — common symptoms of Vicodin. In addition, NSAIDs are much less addictive than Vicodin and other opioid-analgesic combination drugs.

Most importantly, dental experts have determined that there are no significant studies which conclude that current formulations of Vicodin are more effective than NSAIDs in the treatment of postoperative pain after oral surgery. In fact, meta-analyses conducted in 2015 found that NSAIDs tend to relieve such pain better than Vicodin does.

Dentists Are Changing Their Ways

As a result of this discovery, in March 2018 the American Dental Association (ADA) revised its policy regarding the prescription of Vicodin and other opioid medications after tooth extractions and other types of dental surgery. Now, the ADA recommends that dentists prescribe no more than seven days’ worth of opioids, which is in accordance with the policy established by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

This policy change does not constitute any sort of ban on the prescribing of Vicodin for dental patients. So if your teenager is experiencing substantial or severe pain after undergoing a tooth extraction, he or she can obtain a prescription for Vicodin, even if the pain lasts longer than a week.

Parents Must Decide: Vicodin or NSAIDs?

This is where parents of teens should exercise their good judgment. Since most dental surgery patients can adequately address their pain management needs using NSAIDs, it may be wise to try this approach initially instead of automatically opting for Vicodin.

However, if you feel your teenager is dealing with significant pain, it is okay to fill a prescription for Vicodin and administer it according to the dentist’s instructions. In these cases, drug treatment professionals recommend that parents control the dosages and distribution of the drug, keep it secured so that it cannot be accessed by children, and watch for initial signs of misuse or dependence.

Though rare, Vicodin misuse in teens can lead to addiction to heroin or other opioid drugs in young adulthood. Talk with your teenager and his or her dentist to ensure that your child can receive effective pain management while minimizing the risk of opioid exposure.

Like other prescription opioids that are intended for pain management, Vicodin can be misused by teens. In some cases, such misuse can lead to opioid addiction. If you are worried that your teenager may be dependent on opioids, contact Next Generation Village today for information on getting help.

Medical Disclaimer: Next Generation Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options, and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider.

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