Opioids in dentistry

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November 20th, 2017

Every year, Delta Dental of Minnesota invites Minnesota’s oral health professionals to its annual symposium to learn and discuss the current state of dentistry and dental practices. The 2017 event drew more than 200 dental professionals, and hit on timely and important topics – including the concern of opioids across the country.

This year, we hosted Prasida Khanal and Dana Farley from the Minnesota Department of Health, who gave their official overview and statistical view of opioids on a state and national level. We also hosted Bridgett Anderson, Executive Director of the Minnesota Board of Dentistry, who offered a moving personal look at the human side of opioid addiction. Together, the two presentations offered an in-depth look into opioids in Minnesota, how dental practices are affected, and what oral health professionals can consider when making opioid decisions in their own work.

As an oral health professional, I thought the presentations – while heavy – brought up several important considerations. My takeaways:

Opioids can be useful tools

While opioids can be safe and effective in relieving pain, they are narcotics – and rightfully require a prescription.

Opioids act by attaching to receptors in the brain that block pain and also cause the body to release the dopamine hormone, producing feelings of pleasure. Any substance that acts on dopamine in the body can lead to substance abuse, addiction or death.

Examples of prescription opioids include oxycodone (OxyContin), hydrocodone (Vicodin), codeine, morphine, and many others. Heroin also an opioid.

The implications are statewide

In 2016, there were 376 opioid-involved deaths in Minnesota, which included deaths associated with prescription drugs as well as heroin and fentanyl. In their talk at w.i.t.s., Prasida Khanal and Dana Farley explained that these overdose deaths are not experienced equally across all age groups, genders, geography or cultures in Minnesota. Peak drug overdose rates have moved to younger age groups, now affecting the 25-34-year-old age group more than any other.


Source: Minnesota Department of Health, presentation during Delta Dental of Minnesota w.i.t.s. program

Stigma is Real

In her talk at w.i.t.s., Bridgett Anderson explained that stigma refers to negative perceptions commonly associated with substance abuse and addiction. Stigma is a public health issue and contributes to increased rates of death, incarceration and mental health concerns among the dependent population. It is essential that we as dental professionals are treating our patients as a whole person, rather just caring for their teeth.


9 million individuals have diagnosed mental illness and a substance abuse diagnosis Only 7.4% of these individuals receive treatment for both 8% receive no treatment at all

Dentistry is affected

In Minnesota, dentists are the fifth-highest prescriber of opioids, accounting for about 12 percent of all immediate-release opioids in the United States. The Minnesota Board of Dentistry has offered guidance on safe prescribing and use of opioids in dental settings – crucial to all of us operating in Minnesota. See the statement here.