Opioids are a type of medication used to relieve pain. They require a prescription from your dentist or doctor, and include drugs such as hydrocodone, oxycodone, morphine, and codeine. Opioids also include illegal drugs such as heroin.
To ease discomfort that can result from some dental procedures, such as tooth extraction, gum and other dental surgery, or placement of dental implants, dentists may prescribe medications for pain relief, including opioids. Commonly prescribed opioid medications for relief of dental pain include hydrocodone (Vicodin®), oxycodone (Percocet® or OxyContin®), and acetaminophen with codeine (Tylenol® No. 3 and Tylenol® No. 4).
These types of medications are generally safe if they are used for a short period of time—as prescribed by a health professional—to relieve short-term oral pain that may result from injuries or some dental procedures. However, using these types of medications for a longer period of time and at a higher dose than prescribed puts you at risk for becoming dependent on opioid medications. And, when misused, opioids can lead to addiction, overdose, or death.
It is important to know there are over-the-counter, non-opioid medications—acetaminophen (Tylenol®) and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen (Advil®, Motrin®)—that can be just as effective for managing most dental pain.
Be sure to talk with your dentist about how to manage pain after a dental procedure:
- Ask your dentist if there are other ways besides opioids to relieve your pain.
- If your dentist prescribes an opioid pain medication, you should:
- Let your dentist know about any other medications you are currently taking, and also whether you or others in your family have had any problems with substance abuse, such as with alcohol, prescription medications, or illicit drugs.
- Ask about the risks of taking the medication.
- Ask how to take the medicine and how long you should take it.
- Be sure to take the medicine according to the directions you have received.
- Never use alcohol when taking an opioid medication.
- Store the medication in a safe place out of sight and out of reach of children, preferably in a locked cabinet.
Dispose of any unused or expired medication as soon as possible. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration offers instructions on how to dispose of any unused medication. See the Additional Resources section.
- NIH News in Health: Managing Pain, Moving Beyond Opioids
An article in NIH's monthly newsletter that discusses acute and chronic pain, alternatives to opioid medication, and NIH-funded research on developing better and safer treatments for pain.
- NIDCR Clinical Research Fellowship Grand Rounds, March 17, 2017
A talk titled “America’s Opioid Overdose Epidemic: What We Know and How Health Practitioners Can Help,” presented by Debra Houry, MD, MPH, from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
- The NIH National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA): Opioids
Basic facts from NIDA on opioids. Provides an overview of opioid medications as well as information on the opioid crisis in the U.S.
Resources for health professionals on the causes and consequences of drug use and addiction, and advances in pain management.
- NIH Helping to End Addiction Long-term (HEAL) Initiative
Trans-agency effort to speed scientific solutions to stem the national opioid public health crisis.
- NIH Pain Consortium
Enhances pain research and promotes collaboration among researchers across the many NIH Institutes and Centers that have programs addressing pain.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Opioid Overdose: Information for Patients
Includes FAQs, information on how to avoid opioid misuse, and options for pain management that do not involve prescription opioids.
- U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Safe Disposal of Medicines
Includes information such as where and how to dispose of unused medicines.
A website from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services that provides information about the national opioid crisis as well as help and resources.