19 Mar

Researchers call for reduced opioid use after study reveals limited benefits for dental patients

Researchers have called for reduced opioid use in dentistry after a study found that the drugs have limited benefits for dental patients.

Data collected and analysed by a team at Michigan University suggested that there was very little in the way of differences between opioids and other pain relief techniques. Researchers analysed results from a group of 325 dental patients who had undergone tooth extraction. Approximately 39% of people were provided with opioids after the procedure. Patients who had both routine and surgical extractions were involved in the study. 

Romesh Nalliah, co-author of the study and a clinical professor at Michigan University, explained that the study suggested that there was no clear difference in patient satisfaction between the opioid and non-opioid groups and that satisfaction levels were similar for routine and surgical procedures. Another important observation was that patients who were given opioids reported more severe pain. Half of opioids prescribed were also left unused. 

In light of the findings of the study, researchers are calling for dental professionals to prescribe opioids less frequently. Co-author, Chad Brummett, who also co-directs the Michigan Opioid Prescribing Engagement Network (OPEN) added that the findings support prescribing guidelines currently used by OPEN.

Mr Nalliah claimed that it would be possible to “almost eliminate” opioid prescription from dentistry, with the majority of patients able to recover effectively using alternative medication and pain relief methods. There will be exceptions, for example, patients who cannot tolerate NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs), but Mr Nalliah thinks it is realistic to reduce prescription by 90%. 

Opioid prescription is much more common in the US than the UK, with prescriptions accounting for 0.6% of dental prescriptions in the UK, compared to 22% in the US.