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Wisdom Tooth Extraction and Opioid Misuse: A Word of Caution

Extracted tooth in forceps

Getting teenagers to listen to advice about their well-being is sometimes like pulling teeth. That said, it is imperative that they heed this warning if they do have their (wisdom) teeth pulled. It’s not uncommon for patients to begin misusing opioid medications after a wisdom tooth extraction procedure – and adolescents and young adults are even more at risk than older people.

Post-Operative Persistent Opioid Misuse

That’s the gist of research published in August in the Journal of the American Medical Association. Physicians from the University of Michigan observed data covering about 60,000 insured patients who were prescribed opioid medications for pain (like hydrocodone or oxycodone) following the extraction of one or more wisdom teeth. The researchers discovered that people between the ages of 13 and 30 were three times as likely as older patients to get their opioid prescription filled long after their wisdom teeth had been removed.

Researchers describe this phenomenon as “persistent opioid use,” which is when an opioid prescription is filled at least 90 days after the date of the procedure. While it is not as serious as opioid addiction or dependence, persistent opioid use can start the user on a path toward harmful drug misuse.

This problem was identified in an earlier University of Michigan study published in June of 2017 in the journal JAMA Surgery. The researchers looked at data from more than 36,000 patients aged 18 to 64 who had any type of non-emergency surgery between 2013 and 2014. They discovered that between 5.9 percent and 6.5 percent of them engaged in persistent opioid use after their procedures.

How Much Is Your Teen at Risk?

Though the majority of wisdom tooth extractions among teens don’t lead to persistent opioid use, experts are concerned that some teenagers may unknowingly become dependent on these drugs. After all, they may not see any danger in taking medications that are prescribed by a doctor.

Man holding his jaw

But the results of the 2017 study may help parents and doctors identify which teens might most be at risk for persistent opioid use. Researchers identified several pre-operative risk factors that may increase the chances of persistent opioid use after a wisdom tooth extraction. They are:

  • Tobacco use
  • Alcohol use disorder
  • Substance use disorder
  • Mood disorder
  • Chronic pain

Opioid Alternatives and Precautions

Due to the current opioid crisis in the U.S., many in the medical community are questioning the need for postoperative opioid medications at all. Research published in April in the Journal of the American Dental Association indicates that pain management after a wisdom tooth extraction can be addressed with more common medicines like aspirin, ibuprofen, or acetaminophen and provide similar results without exposing patients to the possibility of opioid dependence.

If your teen does require opioid medications for pain after getting his or her wisdom teeth pulled, there are some steps parents can take. First, it’s imperative to educate him or her about the potential dangers of opioids – even those that are prescribed by a doctor. Also, monitor the administration of the pills your teenager takes and insist on reassessing your teen’s situation before the prescription gets refilled. Finally, dispose of any unused opioids once your child’s pain has gone to remove the temptation of taking those drugs later on.

To be clear, there isn’t an epidemic of adolescents getting hooked on opioids after having their wisdom teeth removed. But because teen addiction is indeed a possibility, it doesn’t hurt to exercise a bit of caution during your teenager’s recovery after a tooth extraction procedure.

If your child is misusing opioids, contact us today.

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