opioid opioid crisis beavercreek oh dentist
Substance abuse isn’t a new problem and neither are opioids. Just to remind you, opioids are a class of drugs that act on the nervous system to relieve pain. Some – such as oxycodone and hydrocodone – can be legally prescribed to help control pain after medical and dental procedures and surgeries. Heroin would be that one illegal version you’ve been hearing about. All have been in the news a lot lately.
Why are they a problem? Because they are extremely addictive and thus can be easily abused.
Why are they so addictive? The official reason is because the medications in drugs bind to the areas of the brain that control pain and emotions, driving up levels of the feel-good hormone dopamine in the brain’s reward areas producing an intense feeling of euphoria. (www.cnn.com/2016/09/23/health/heroin-opiod-drug-overdose-deaths) In other words, they can be described as the ultimate “chill-pill.” As the brain becomes used to these feelings it can take more and more of the drug to produce the same levels of pain relief and well-being, leading to dependence, and later, possibly, addiction.
Here are some scary statistics:
- 3 out 4 new heroin users start by abusing prescription drugs.
- Deaths from synthetic opioids (like fentanyl) jumped 72% from 2014 to 2015.
- Deaths from prescription drug overdoses have more than quadrupled since 1999.
Unfortunately, this epidemic has disproportionally hit small towns and rural America (mainly Appalachia and the Southwest), far away from the spotlight of the national media. The reason why is a subject for another blog post. However, it has been getting more attention lately.
So what does all of this have to do with dentistry? Well, when we think about drug abuse, usually the first thing that comes to mind is damage to the brain (Remember the fried egg analogy? “This is your brain…this is your brain on drugs”), as well as the heart and lungs. But these powerful drugs can also destroy oral health in general; specifically the teeth and gums. Drug addicts have more cavities and gum disease than the general population. Most likely because good oral health is not at the top of their priority list. Here are some specific ways that opioid addiction is detrimental to oral health:
- Opioids can cause users to grind and clench their teeth. Grinding can crack teeth and weaken the jawbone that supports teeth.
- Opioids reduce pain, which can lead to the user ignoring or missing painful warning signals caused by cavities or gum disease.
- Injecting opioids can cause oral fungus or viral infections that harm the mouth.
- Addicts often neglect oral hygiene because the fixation on getting the next high will often replace brushing their teeth for days on end.
- Cravings for high sugar food and beverages combined with bad oral hygiene habits decay teeth.
- The condition of the teeth and gums can suffer due to nutritional deficiencies from not eating right.
Dentists often prescribe low-level opioid painkillers like hydrocodone and oxycodone after oral surgery (think wisdom teeth extractions.) These drugs are believed to have played some role in contributing to the current crisis. As a result, the American Dental Association has issued guidelines for opioid prescriptions to help advise dentists before prescribing them to patients. Additionally, in our offices we require parents and legal guardians to read and sign a consent form before prescribing opioids to minors.
For more information on this serious subject, here are some helpful websites:
Additional Sources: http://www.dentaltown.com/blog/post/7912/how-opioid-abuse-affects-oral-health
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