The American Dental Association (ADA) wants dentists to drastically cut back on prescribing opioid painkillers.
The ADA announced a new policy this week that "essentially says eliminate opioids from your arsenal if at all possible," said Joseph Crowley, president of the Chicago-based group that represents about 161,000 dentists.
The group also is pushing for limiting opioid prescriptions to no more than a week, as well as mandatory education for dentists that encourages using other painkillers.
Dentists write fewer than 7 percent of U.S. opioid prescriptions, but new research shows that practice has increased in recent years, despite evidence that ibuprofen and acetaminophen work just as well for most dental pain and are less risky than opioids, which can be addictive.
In many dental cases involving opioids, dentists prescribe Vicodin or Percocet for short-term pain from procedures, including removing wisdom teeth and other tooth extractions, root canal work, or dental implants.
But nonsteroidal anti-inflammation drugs, including ibuprofen (sold as Motrin and Advil), are as effective for these conditions; and ibuprofen plus acetaminophen (Tylenol) can provide better pain relief in some cases, according to an analysis of five studies published in the Journal of the American Dental Association.
Dentists are the leading prescribers of opioids for U.S. teens, and the largest increase in dental prescriptions from 2010 to 2015 occurred in 11- to 18-year-olds, according to a study published in the same journal. Among all ages, the rate increased from 131 to 147 per 1,000.