Too many patients who go to U.S. emergency rooms for dental problems are prescribed antibiotics and opioid painkillers, a new study claims.
The findings show the need for continued efforts to combat both opioid abuse and overuse of antibiotics, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention researchers said.
For the study, the investigators analyzed 2012 to 2014 data and found that more than 50% of patients who visited the emergency department for a dental-related condition filled a prescription for antibiotics and about 40% filled a prescription for opioid painkillers (such as OxyContin).
More than 30% of patients filled prescriptions for both an antibiotic and an opioid, Rebecca Roberts, an epidemiologist at the CDC in Atlanta, and colleagues noted in a news release from the American Dental Association (ADA).
“Given previous findings that dental-related diagnoses are a common and potentially avoidable reason for [emergency department] visits, the prescribing of antibiotics and opioids for these conditions becomes even more concerning,” the study authors wrote in the report published in the March issue of the Journal of the American Dental Association.
As part of its ongoing efforts to promote responsible antibiotic use, the ADA released a guideline in 2019 stating that, in most cases, antibiotics aren’t recommended for toothaches, which are a common reason for dental-related ER visits.
The guideline was developed by a multidisciplinary panel, including an emergency medicine physician from the American College of Emergency Physicians.
The ADA also said that it’s trying to raise awareness about, and take action against, the opioid abuse crisis in the United States.
For example, the ADA said it’s taken steps to increase dentists’ awareness about alternatives to prescription opioid painkillers, such as the use of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) alone or in combination with acetaminophen (Tylenol) as a first-line therapy for pain management.
In 2018, the ADA adopted a policy advocating that a combination of ibuprofen (Motrin, Advil) and acetaminophen can be just as effective as prescription opioids for acute pain.
The American Dental Association has more on opioids.