A joint research project conducted by teams at the University of Sheffield and the University of Illinois found that dentists in America are much more likely to recommend stronger painkillers than dental professionals working in the UK.
The findings of the study, which have been published in JAMA Network Open, also suggest that dentists in the US could reduce opioid prescription rates by following UK guidelines. Dentists in the UK are encouraged to advise patients to take painkillers like paracetamol and NSAIDS (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) such as ibuprofen, rather than more powerful opioids.
Researchers found that 22% of dental prescriptions in the US were for opioids compared to just 0.6% of prescriptions in the UK.
Martin Thornhill, co-author and professor of translational research in dentistry at the University of Sheffield, described the situation in the US as “shocking” and added that high opioid prescription rates are particularly alarming given that evidence suggests that alternatives including NSAIDs are as effective when treating oral pain. These drugs don’t tend to cause unpleasant side-effects like some opioids, and the risk of getting addicted to painkillers is significantly lower. UK dentists deal with the same issues as US dentists, but they go about managing pain in a very different way, and researchers believe that adhering to UK guidelines could help to prevent many more patients in the US from becoming reliant on opioids. Opioid addiction is one of the most widespread and dangerous health crises facing the US.
In addition to concerns about the potential for opioid addiction, researchers have also flagged issues related to wasted medication. The teams found that over a million pills are unused each year in the US.