ER Patients Commonly Receive Opioid and Antibiotic Prescriptions for Dental Issues

Dentistry Today

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More than 50% of patients who visit the emergency department for a dental-related condition filled a prescription for antibiotics, while 40% filled a prescription for opioids, between 2012 and 2014, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Also, more than 30% of patients filled prescriptions for both an antibiotic and an opioid as a result of their visit. 

Since previous research has found that dental-related issues are a common and potentially avoidable reason for emergency department visits, the researchers said, antibiotic and opioid prescriptions for these conditions become even more concerning, considering the epidemics of opioid abuse and antibiotic resistance.

As part of its antibiotic stewardship efforts, the ADA released a guideline not recommending antibiotics for toothaches in most cases in 2019. Toothaches are a common reason for dental-related visits to emergency departments. The guideline was developed by a multidisciplinary panel including an emergency medicine physician nominated by the American College of Emergency Physicians.

Since 2011, the ADA has advocated for keeping opioid pain relievers from harming dental patients and their families and has worked to raise professional awareness about treatment alternatives. Growing research shows that dentists should consider nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs alone or in combination with acetaminophen instead of opioids as first-line therapy for acute pain management. In 2018, the ADA adopted a policy indicating that a combination of ibuprofen and acetaminophen can be just as effective as opioids for acute pain. 

The study, “Antibiotic and Opioid Prescribing for Dental-Related Conditions in Emergency Departments,” was published in the Journal of the American Dental Association.

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