Skip to main content

Opioids and Pain Treatment

Dentists have a responsibility to provide safe and effective pain relief for their patients while at the same time limiting the prescription of opioids to an appropriate amount. Dentists play a vital role in preventing the abuse and misuse of prescription medications. 

Learn more about opioids and how they affect dental care.

What to Ask Your Dentist Before Taking Opioids

The oral health community is committed to protecting patients and doing its part to address the epidemic of opioid abuse. Helping patients have thoughtful conversations with their dentist is a critical step in the process. 

Before you agree to an opioid prescription for yourself or your child, get the facts and ask questions:

  • Why do I need this medication–is it right for me?
  • Are there non-opioid alternatives that could help with pain while I recover?
  • What are the potential side effects from this medication?
  • What if my family or I have a history of addiction with tobacco, alcohol, or drugs?
  • Could this treatment interact with my other medications?
  • If I need opioids, how many opioids are absolutely necessary? Can we start with a smaller prescription and then fill a second only if necessary?
  • What should I do with unused opioid medicine?

Safe Administration and Storage of Opioid Medication

If you or your child has been prescribed an opioid medication, be sure to follow these safety guidelines:
  • DON’T allow children or teens to administer their own medication.
  • DON’T take medicine in front of children who often mimic adults.
  • DO monitor how many pills are in each of your prescription bottles.
  • DO secure your prescriptions in the same way you would other valuables.
  • DO keep medicine out of the reach of children.
  • DO store medicine in its original container–the label on the bottle provides important information about the medicine.
  • DON’T leave medicine in places that are easily accessible to children or pets.

Safe Disposal of Opioid Medication

Do your part to safely dispose of any unused opioid medications:
  • Discard expired or unused medications as soon as you are done with them.
  • Check prescription dropbox locations to see if there is a permanent waste medication collection site in your town or city, or check for medication “takeback” programs with your local police or fire department, or authorized collection site, such as a pharmacy.
  • If you cannot get to a dropbox or collection site, hide medication containers in the trash. DO NOT put them in your recycle bin!
  • Keep medications in their original containers. Leave drug names visible to help identify the contents if they are accidentally swallowed. Cross out other personal information.
  • Make the medication as difficult to consume as possible: 
    • For pills: Add some water or soda to dissolve them.
    • For liquids: Add inedible material like cat litter, coffee grounds, or dirt.
  • Close the lids and secure with tape.
  • Unless otherwise instructed, DO NOT flush medications down the toilet. 

Need 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.