Dental painkillers are often a first exposure point for people susceptible to opioid use disorder. This experience, experts say, is often the first event that leads to addiction to opioids. But is it necessary?

Young people are rarely exposed to painkillers outside of the ER. When you break a bone or sprain an ankle as a minor, you may receive some form of painkiller in the hospital. However, when you get home, parents are usually told to use children’s Tylenol or something similar for the pain.

Studies show that most young people end up taking opioids when they have painful dental surgery, typically when the third molars are removed. Most young people are between the ages of 16 and 21 when they need their wisdom teeth removed. For some, it’s the most pain they’ve been in their entire lives. It’s also usually the first time they have been prescribed opioids for pain.

The study results were indeed jarring; almost 6 percent of 15,000 young people (ages 16-25) who took painkillers prescribed by dentists were diagnosed with opioid abuse within a year. The control group, not prescribed opioids at all, only had an addiction rate of 0.4 percent.

Why Are Young People Getting Addicted?

So what happens that makes these young people more susceptible to addiction? Science hasn’t yet tried to answer. There is, however, some common sense to the equation. Young people are more impulsive, especially minors. Their brains haven’t finished developing yet.

No one can use a drug that’s not available to them. If a dentist prescribed a young person a large amount of pills, that’s going to make those pills more accessible for abuse.

It’s easy to say don’t prescribe these drugs at all, but dental procedures can be quite painful. Ask if your child can take Tylenol or Advil, but if a doctor is worried about the pain levels, you should trust him or her.

A parent, however, has the right to manage a minor’s medication alongside the medical professionals. If you’re a parent, try to find out about alternating pain medications for a few days so your child isn’t only taking opioids for pain management and can wean from them quickly. Ask for a small supply that lasts about three days.

Many young people are allowed to manage these powerful pain prescriptions on their own without adult supervision. This means they can take as many as they want, whenever they want. Parents need to realize that teens are still teens, and it’s easy for them to be tempted to experiment with drugs.

Access should be limited, and the prescriptions should be used as prescribed. A pharmacy has special envelopes you can use to dispose of any leftover pills safely.