PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — Dentists and parents are on alert as wisdom teeth removal is contributing to the opioid epidemic among teenagers.
About 5 million Americans have their wisdom teeth removed every year.
Charlotte Stephenson said her daughter’s first taste of opioids came at 17 when she got her wisdom teeth out.
“When I look back on that, I may have well been her drug dealer, because I was serving her those Percocet pills every so many hours, for days,” Stephenson said.
Stephenson’s daughter became addicted to opioids and was in and out of rehab six times.
Stephenson’s daughter has now been sober for two years, but Charlotte wishes she had asked more about the pain protocol and whether opioids were necessary when her daughter was just a teen.
“I would have questioned, ‘Why are we using these meds? What are the other medications?’ I would have handled things differently,” Stephenson said. “And as a mom, I feel remorse.”
Researcher Dr. Paul Moore with the University of Pittsburgh School of Dental Medicine said studies have shown that alternatives to opioids are often better options after wisdom teeth removal.
In fact, the faculty at the dental school is now advocating for the use of non-opioid medicines.
“A combination of ibuprofen with acetaminophen works just as well as an opioid, a Percocet or Vicodin, and doesn’t have all the side effects,” Moore said.
The American Dental Association has released updated guidelines recommending the use of alternative pain relievers and a maximum seven-day supply when opioids are necessary.
United Healthcare is telling its providers to dial back opioids even more.
Looking at its own data, United Healthcare found 12 percent of all opioid prescriptions were being written by dentists.
That number jumped to 45 percent when they looked at just teenage patients.
“What we recommend is, go low and go slow. No more than a three-day supply,” said Jim Hancovsky, United Healthcare’s chief pharmacy officer.
Charlotte Stephenson says parents need to know all the options before giving their kids pain pills.
“These opioids are very dangerous and when someone walks into that doctor’s office, that doctor has no idea if that person is susceptible to addiction problems.”
Stephenson is now raising her grandson as her daughter works on her sobriety.