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Dentists Now Drill Patients on Illegal Drug Use


(This content is being used for illustrative purposes only; any person depicted in the content is a model)

Author: Shernide Delva

Your employer may not be the only one questioning your illegal drug use. Now you could get “drilled” about it by your dentist. A new survey revealed that three out of four U.S dentists ask their patients about their illegal drug use.

One reason is the dental problems that long term drug use can cause such as tooth loss, tooth wear, gum disease and tooth decay, researchers explained. Drug history is helpful for dentists in treating patients effectively.

Another reason is that dentists are the second-largest group of prescribers for opioids such as Vicodin, OxyContin, and Percocet.

In the study, lead author Carrigan Parish, an associate research scientist from Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health in New York City, explained further:

“Because dental care routinely involves treating pain and emergencies, dentists may encounter substance-seeking patients who complain of pain more severe than anticipated based on the nature of their dental condition, who report lost prescriptions for opioid pain medications, or who only seek dental treatment sporadically,”

  • Over 1,200 dentists nationwide responded to the survey.
  • More than half of dentists believe they should conduct drug screening of new patients.
  • The survey found that older dentists were less likely to screen for drug use.
  • Younger dentists under 53 years old were more likely to feel it was their role to conduct drug screenings.
  • Female respondents were more likely than males to agree that dentists should screen for illegal drug use

“There are a sizable number of people whose visit to a dentist represents their sole interaction with the health care system, highlighting the significance of the dental visit as a key opportunity to identify substance use disorders,” Parish said.

Dentists may require extra training to increase their awareness and knowledge of substance abuse, Parish said.  It still is also unclear how patients feel about these screenings.

“While surveys have shown that patients are amenable to receiving medical screenings by dentists ‘chair-side’ for such conditions as HIV, heart disease, and diabetes, further studies directly addressing patient attitudes on substance misuse screening are key in determining patients’ acceptance of such services,” Parish said.

With the opioid epidemic spreading throughout the country, anything to cut down on the addiction crisis can help lives.   Dentists rarely get the blame for the prescription drug abuse problem. I mean, you almost never hear terms like “dentist shopping” or “dental pill mills?” Dentists rarely are brought up even though they prescribe these strong pain medications on a regular basis.

The question remains on how to combat the drug abuse without hurting those patients who actually need the medications the most: Patients suffering from real dental pain. It is a complex problem and it is difficult for dentists to do anything about it.

One suggestion is to take advantage of “take back” days sponsored by the Drug Enforcement Administration to safely get rid of excess drugs. Flushing unused drugs is not recommended due to environmental contamination.

The next “take back” day is September 26. There are plenty of locations on the website where you can drop off your unused prescriptions.

Do you think dentists are taking a step in the right direction?  Remember, prescription medications should be used for their medical purposes only. If you find yourself falling into the cycle of addiction, remember you are not alone.  If you or someone you love is struggling with substance abuse or addiction, please call toll-free 1-800-951-6135


Pharmacodynamics is a branch of pharmacology. While pharmacokinetics can be described as what the body does to a drug, pharmacodynamics is what the drug does to the body. It studies the relationship between drug concentration and effect.

Pharmacodynamics: What does it have to with illicit drug use?

Pharmacodynamics of illicit drugs is studied most often in relation to the production of euphoria and the development of tolerance to certain drugs. All drugs of abuse cause euphoria and most produce tolerance. Addicts know that over time, they need more and more drugs to produce the same high. This is known as tolerance.

When you take a drug, it binds to certain receptors in the brain. The extent of binding and the number of receptors is the main focus of pharmacodynamics. Some drugs bind to receptors and stimulate them. These are known as antagonists. Most illicit drugs have this effect. Some drugs bind to receptors and partially stimulate them, but also block other drugs from binding. This is the case for drugs like Suboxone. It binds to opiate receptors and stimulates them partially, which helps to treat opiate withdrawal symptoms. It also blocks other opiates from binding, so if you shoot heroin after taking Suboxone, you won’t get high. This 2-fold effect is why Suboxone is used to treat opiate dependency. Some drugs bind and do not stimulate the receptor at all. They just block other drugs from binding. Naloxone is an opiate antagonist. It will prevent you from getting high from other opiates, but it does nothing to treat opiate withdrawal. This is why naloxone is used as more of a long-term preventative drug instead of a detox drug.

When a drug is taken over a long period of time, the body responds to the presence of the drug by increasing or decreasing the number of receptors for the drug depending on the drugs effect on the receptor. For antagonists, the body responds by decreasing the number of receptors and the “responsiveness” of each receptor. So not only does the body have fewer receptors, the receptors themselves are less responsive. Also, the body produces less of whatever natural chemical normally binds to the receptor.  This is tolerance, and for drugs with a high addictive potential, it occurs in a relatively short period of time. When the body becomes tolerant of a drug and drug use is stopped or significantly reduced, the body experiences withdrawal.

This is why, for example, opiate withdrawal is so painful. The body produces natural “opiates” or pain-killing chemicals. Over time, when the body is getting a steady supply of outside opiates (like heroin or roxies) it produces less natural opiates. Also, there are fewer opiate receptors and the receptors are less responsive. This is the essence of pharmacodynamics-the body’s response to drugs. It does this to try to maintain equilibrium. When the opiates are taken away or reduced, the body reacts in an extreme way.

Pharmacodynamics is important in studying the effect of drugs on the body and in the development of new drugs.

If you or someone you know needs treatment for Alcohol or Drug Addiction please call us at 800-951-6135 or visit us online at

*This is an informational based article and is not intended to replace the advice or knowledge of a medical professional.*

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