The abuse of opioids is a public health crisis in the United States. Dentists continue to be a leading source of opioid prescriptions for children and adolescents aged 10 to 19 years, primarily due to third molar extractions (wisdom teeth).

Young people who develop opioid abuse problems may be first exposed to the drug while receiving dental treatment. This, according to a new study released earlier this month by JAMA Internal Medicine.

Authors of the study compared private insurance claims data from 2015 for a group of 14,888 opioid-exposed 16-to-25-year-olds who received an opioid prescription from a dentist and 29,776 individuals in a control group who did not receive an opioid prescription.

Note: The study also documented that there were 67,671 16-to-25-year-olds whose first opioid prescription did not come from a dentist.

Of the individuals who received an opioid prescription from a dentist, there was a 6.8 percent greater risk of future persistent opioid use and a 5.3 percent greater risk of subsequent diagnosis of opioid abuse when compared to the those who did not receive an opioid prescription in the first place.

The data reviewed did not include the reason for the opioid prescription, but the authors make an educated assumption.

"The findings suggest that dental opioid prescriptions, which may be driven by third molar extractions in this age group, may be associated with subsequent opioid use and opioid abuse," write the authors, led by Alan Schroeder, M.D., of the Stanford University School of Medicine.

The authors do make note of several study limitations, including the reliance on diagnosis codes provided by insurers. The full list of codes has not been validated with medical record review, the authors note, so it is possible some misclassification may have occurred.

As a result of this study, the authors call for heightened scrutiny regarding third molar extractions and opioid prescriptions associated with postoperative care.

You can read the full article, "Association of Opioid Prescriptions From Dental Clinicians for U.S. Adolescents and Youth Adults with Subsequent Opioid Use and Abuse," online.