Colorado Dentists Seek Opioid Alternatives in Light of Nationwide Crisis

Pain and dental procedures often go hand-in-hand; for years, dentists have been prescribing opioids like Percocet or Vicodin for pain relief. Now, in light of the nationwide opioid epidemic, Colorado dentists are pursuing opioid alternatives.

“It’s on every health care practitioner’s mind,” said Dr. Brett Kessler, a Denver dentist and former president of the Colorado Dental Association. He went on to say that looking for opioid alternatives to manage the pain is huge, and that it’s a growing trend nationally.

Kessler also noted that most teens and young adults are first exposed to opioids when they get their wisdom teeth removed. “There are studies out there that show if you give more than a three-day dose of opiates, they’ve got a much higher chance of becoming addicted later in life,” he said.

In 2016, 912 people in Colorado died from overdoses, 300 of which were opioid-related. Opioid abuse generally leads to heroin use, which has taken an additional 228 lives.

Lafayette oral surgeon Curt Hayes now uses FDA-approved non-opioid Exparel, which numbs the gums and keeps them pain-free for a few days. He initially started using the opioid alternative for patients who had been abusing painkillers, but now he provides it as an option for all of his patients.

“I’ve backed off to where I don’t give any narcotics whatsoever,” said Hayes. “I have people using ibuprofen and then over-the-counter Tylenol, and that’s acceptable. And it takes care of the pain.”

“Opioids ought to be drugs of last resort, not drugs of first choice,” said Robert Valuck, coordinating center director of the Colorado Consortium for Prescription Drug Abuse Prevention. Ideally, opioid alternatives such as Exparel will become the norm.

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