A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

UnitedHealthcare Dental engaging providers and patients to reduce opioid painkiller prescriptions

By Mary Kuhlman
Public News Service

Oral health is a key component in fighting the opioid epidemic, and dental professionals and their patients in Kentucky are encouraged to take a more proactive role in prevention.

Dentists and oral surgeons write 12 percent of all opioid prescriptions. While often necessary to combat dental pain, opioids come with a high risk of misuse and addiction.

That’s why UnitedHealthcare Dental is focusing on reducing painkiller prescriptions and promoting proper use.

Dentists write nearly half of all opioid prescriptions for adolescents. (Photo from lira_n4/Twenty20.com, via PNS)

As chief dental officer for the company, Dr. Ted Wong stresses there are other alternatives to manage pain.

“Instead of Vicodin or Percocet, which are the typical opioids that are prescribed, recent studies have shown that a combination of Tylenol with Motrin are as effective if not more effective as opioids for dental pain and you don’t have the risk of the opioid addiction,” he points out.

Following recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), first-time opioid prescriptions written by UnitedHealthcare Dental health professionals will be limited to three days for people ages 19 and younger.

More than 130 Americans die each day from opioid overdoses, and nearly half are estimated to be related to prescription opioids.

Dentists write nearly half of all opioid prescriptions for adolescents, and about two-in-three patients ages 16 to 22 are prescribed an opioid following a wisdom tooth extraction.

Wong says patients will be provided information about the risks of opioids.

“For this age group, teenagers and young adults, they’re more susceptible to the addictive effects of opioids because their brains are still maturing,” he explains. “And that’s also the age group where there’s higher risk of misuse or abuse of opioid drugs. ”

Wong encourages all dental patients to take charge of their health by speaking in-depth with their dental provider about the safest treatment options for pain.

“And then be safe,” he urges. “If you are prescribed an opioid, handle them appropriately, keep them out of the hands of kids, keep them locked up when not in use and dispose of any unused pills appropriately. ”

About half of opioid pain pills prescribed for dental pain go unused. In Kentucky, there were nearly 1,000 opioid-related overdose deaths in 2016.

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