While doctors get much of the blame for the nation's deadly opioid addiction crisis, Dr. Ted Wong, who is the Chief Dental Officer for UnitedHealthcare of Texas, says opioids prescriptions written by dentists are often overlooked, News Radio 1200 WOAI reports. News Radio 1200 WOAI reports.
"Our United Healthcare data shows that denitists write about 45% of opioid prescriptions to adolescents," Dr. Wong says.
And he says the real problem is that many of these prescriptions are written in conjunction with wisdom tooth removal, which is most frequently performed among teens and young adults. Due to the incomplete development of their brains, people in this age group are the most likely to become addicted.
"About five million people each year have their wisdom teeth removed, and about two thirds of those will receive at least one opioid prescription," he said. "So this incrases the risk of exposure to opioids."
Not only is opioid addiction in the United States now a bigger killer than traffic crashes, it is estimated that opioid addiction is a $500 billion drag on the U.S. economy each year, not to mention that it empowers violent drug cartels which import many of the opioids sold on the black market in the U.S.
A study by the Journal fo the American Medical Association found that adolsecents who get their first opioid prescription form a dentist or oral surgeon are at greater risk of falling victim to addictions.
Dr. Wong says new policies are being put in place by UnitedHealthcare to deal with the problem of addictions caused by dental prescriptions.
Among them will include a three-day limit on opioid prescriptions, as well as discussion of alternative medicine for pain following wisdom tooth removal.
He says parents of the teens undergoing the surgery should also take steps to minimize the risk of addiciton, including safely discarding unused tablets. Studies have shown that many opioid addition patients first get addicted by snatching unused pills out of a parents' or a friend's medicine cabinet.