Why You Should Talk to Your Dentist About Safe and Effective Use of Opioids

portrait of a dentist

Written by Maxine Feinberg, DDS, President of the American Dental Association

Opioid abuse has reached crisis levels across the country, with 44 people dying each day from overdoses. Unfortunately, opioid pain medications, like hydrocodone and oxycodone, have become a leading source of drug abuse among teens and adults.

Following some dental procedures, your dentist may prescribe an opioid to help relieve pain. When taken as prescribed for short periods of time under the care of a medical professional, these medications are safe to use. But using these drugs for any other purpose is dangerous, illegal, and can even be fatal.

There is no one-size-fits-all approach to dental treatment. As dentists, it’s our goal help you avoid dental pain completely. Talk to your dentist about your options. Make sure you update your health history form, tell your dentist about medications you are currently taking and ask plenty of questions. Feel free to include your primary medical doctor in the conversation. If you are in recovery or have struggled with addiction, tell your dentist. Let your dentist know if anyone if your family has struggled with addiction.

Abusing opioids is extremely dangerous. You play an important role in keeping prescription medications from becoming a source of abuse in your household and in the community. You can take the following steps to help prevent these medications from becoming a source of abuse:


Talk with your family about the dangers of using prescription drugs for non-medical purposes. Be sure they understand that prescription drugs are not harmless just because they are legal. Prescription drugs can be just as addictive, dangerous and even fatal as illegal street drugs when they are abused. They are also only legal for the person for whom they are prescribed.


Properly secure your prescription medications. Do not leave them in predictable, accessible places like your medicine cabinet.


Be mindful of whether anyone else–especially your child and his or her friends–may have been taking your medication. Take note of how many pills are in each of your prescription bottles or pill packets and keep track of your refills. This goes for your own medicine, as well as for your teens and other members of the household.


More than half of all users who abuse pain relievers non-medically get them from friends or relatives who received them for a legitimate purpose. Properly dispose of your unused, unwanted, or expired prescription medications:

  • Follow any disposal instructions on the label or patient information you get with your prescription.
  • Don’t flush medicines down the toilet or pour them down the sink unless the disposal instructions say to do so.
  • If there are no disposal instructions, participate in a drug take-back day or find a Controlled Substance Public Disposal Location near you.
  • If you are unable to attend a drug take-back day, take unwanted prescription medications out of the original bottle and mix them with coffee grounds or kitty litter in a sealed bag or closed container to make them less appealing and recognizable to anyone who can see your trash–including your kids.
  • Remove all personal information from prescription bottles to protect your privacy.

Spread the Word

Up to 23 percent of doses of prescription pain medications are taken for non-medical reasons. Talk with your family about the dangers of prescription drug abuse, and encourage your friends to do the same.

Get Help

If you or someone you love is struggling with addiction, call the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration hotline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357). It’s confidential, free and available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. You can also find a treatment center near you.

Learn more about opioid addiction and how you can help in the fight against this disease by participating in The National Night of Conversation.