Do Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons Over-Prescribe Opioids After Extraction of Asymptomatic Third Molars?


Assistant Professor, Harvard School of Dental Medicine and Harvard Medical School, Boston; Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeon, Department of Plastic and Oral Surgery, Boston Children's Hospital, Boston, MA. Electronic address: [Email]


OBJECTIVE : Opioid abuse is a public health concern. Oral opioids are prescribed after removal of third molars, but the amount needed for adequate postoperative analgesia is unknown. The purpose of this study was to quantify opioid need after third molar extractions.
METHODS : This is a prospective cohort study of consecutive patients who had asymptomatic third molars extracted with intravenous sedation at the Boston Children's Hospital (Boston, MA) from June through October 2018 by 3 attending surgeons. To be included, patients had to have had 4 third molars removed. Patients were excluded if they had a concomitant procedure, preoperative infection, postoperative inflammatory complication, chronic pain condition, or did not complete the study. Postoperative prescriptions and instructions included 1) oxycodone 5-mg tablets with 1 tablet taken every 6 hours as needed (dispensed, 6); 2) ibuprofen 600-mg tablets with 1 tablet taken every 6 hours as needed (dispensed, 20); and 3) acetaminophen 325-mg tablets with 2 tablets taken every 6 hours as needed (dispensed, 40). Participants reported medication use by electronic questionnaire each day for 7 postoperative days (PODs). Descriptive statistics were calculated.
RESULTS : Eighty-one patients (56% female; mean age, 19.4 ± 7.7 yr) were included. The average number of oxycodone tablets used was 0.04 ± 0.24, and the highest daily use of oxycodone was on POD 2 (1.0 ± 0.0 tablet). Oxycodone was taken by 3 patients (4%) on POD 1, 4 (5%) on POD 2, 2 (3%) on PODs 3 and 4, and 0 on PODs 5 to 7. Seventy-five patients (93%) used no postoperative oxycodone; 466 prescribed oxycodone tablets remained unfilled or unused. Ibuprofen 600 mg was used for 4.6 ± 2.2 PODs and acetaminophen 650 mg was used for 3.4 ± 1.9 PODs.
CONCLUSIONS : Oral opioid use after third molar extractions is minimal. Caution is necessary to avoid over-prescribing.

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