No one wants to be in pain. And no medical professional wants to see their patients in pain. This includes your family dentist. So much of what we do is about relieving pain, and our mission in life is to help patients feel better. But how we do this is changing. The medical community and our nation at large are realizing the dangers of opioid use. Medications that might once have been handed out without much concern are now carefully considered and used only during serious situations. As dentists, this means we’re getting creative in how we encourage patients to relieve and overcome pain.
Can I Get a Prescription from My Dentist?
As a Doctor of Dental Medicine or Doctor of Dental Surgery, your dentist can prescribe medicines as needed for dental care, just like a medical doctor. This includes antibiotics to fight infection, muscle relaxants for jaw pain, anesthetics and sedatives to help during procedures and other drugs that help us keep you and your mouth healthy, including pain medications. At one point, it was fairly common for dentists to prescribe opioids for dental pain because of a lack of understanding in the overall medical community about the negative long term effects and prevalence of addiction. Fortunately, this is changing as we come to fully understand the severity of our nation’s opioid crisis. Dentists are leading the way in taking a more mindful and cautious approach in prescribing opioids. If opioids are needed, our focus is on making sure they’re used responsibly and on a very temporary basis.
How Does the New ADA Opioid Policy Help Dentists and Patients?
The American Dental Association’s groundbreaking opioid policy launched in 2018 is designed to put dentists at the forefront of the medical community in addressing the opioid crisis. The ADA seeks to limit opioid use using three main strategies:
- Mandatory continuing education in prescribing opioids and other controlled substances.
- Limits on opioid dosage and duration of no more than seven days for the treatment of acute pain, in line with guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
- Participation in Prescription Drug Monitoring Programs (PDMPs). This involves connecting dentists with other providers in patients’ lives to make sure they’re not getting multiple prescriptions for opioids at the same time.
This approach is having a real effect on limiting opioid prescriptions to cases that are medically necessary. However, it does require educating patients and helping them understand that a certain level of pain may be in the best interest of their overall health. If you’re in a great deal of pain and don’t have a history of addiction, a short course of opioid-based medication may be the best approach. However, as providers, we are far more mindful and monitor use more closely.
What Are The Alternatives for Treating Dental Pain?
We’ve come a long way since the days when opioids were prescribed as a matter of course after dental work. Like the medical community as a whole, dentists are changing the way we look at pain, and we’re asking patients to do the same. One on hand, this means returning to some old-school approaches to managing pain. At the same time, it means asking patients to get used to the idea of living with some short term discomfort in the interest of long term health. For our part, we’ve increased our emphasis on communication and follow-up with patients. Instead of simply writing a prescription as we may have a decade ago, we now take a more comprehensive approach.
We’re also going back to basics in some of our pain management techniques. Our patients understand this and have shown a willingness to try different approaches. Instead of opioids we may recommend:
- Standard over the counter pain relievers like Ibuprofen
- Salt water rinses
- Cold compresses
- Natural remedies like clove oil and Tumeric to fight pain and inflammation
Patients are usually pleased with the effectiveness of these simple, side-effect-free approaches.
Pain Management at Greenhill Family Dental Care
At Greenhill Family Dental Care, we take a thoughtful, common-sense and patient-focused approach to pain management. If prescription drugs are needed, they’re prescribed with careful monitoring. But we work hard to communicate with patients about pain and encourage them to explore options, including living with temporary mild discomfort to avoid opioids. As a society, we’re realizing that a prescription isn’t always the answer and a shift in mindset can bring long-term benefits.