American Dental Association Announces New Policy to Combat Opioid Epidemic

Policy supports mandates on opioid prescribing and continuing education


The American Dental Association (ADA) today announced a new policy on opioids supporting mandates on prescription limits and continuing education in what could be the first of its kind among major health care professional organizations.

The policy states:

  • The ADA supports mandatory continuing education in prescribing opioids and other controlled substances.
  • The ADA supports statutory limits on opioid dosage and duration of no more than seven days for the treatment of acute pain, consistent with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention evidence-based guidelines.
  • The ADA supports dentists registering with and utilizing Prescription Drug Monitoring Programs (PDMPs) to promote the appropriate use of opioids and deter misuse and abuse.

“As president of the ADA, I call upon dentists everywhere to double down on their efforts to prevent opioids from harming our patients and their families,” said ADA President Joseph P. Crowley, D.D.S. “This new policy demonstrates ADA’s firm commitment to help fight the country’s opioid epidemic while continuing to help patients manage dental pain.”

Most opioids prescribed to patients in the U.S. are written by physicians and other medical professionals for management of chronic (long-term) pain. Dentists with an appropriate license may also prescribe opioids, and do so most often for management of acute (short-term) pain such as severe tooth decay, extraction of teeth and root canals. In 1998, dentists were the top specialty prescribers of opioid pain relievers, accounting for 15.5 percent of all opioid prescriptions in the U.S. By 2012, this number had fallen to 6.4 percent.

New data published in the April issue of The Journal of the American Dental Association (JADA) continue to shed light on opioid prescriptions from a dental perspective. The data indicate:

  • Benefits and Harms Associated with Analgesic Medications Used in the Management of Acute Dental Pain: The authors examined five systematic reviews that explored the effectiveness and/or adverse events associated with the use of oral medications for acute pain relief. They found, that for adults, a combination of 400 mg of ibuprofen plus 1000 mg of acetaminophen was superior to any opioid-containing medications studied. The findings support the ADA’s 2016 policy statement that dentists “consider [NSAIDs] as the first-line therapy for acute pain management.”
  • Opioid Prescribing Practices from 2010 through 2015 Among Dentists in the United States: Authors from the ADA Health Policy Institute used data in several existing databases to review opioid prescription claims from 2010 to 2015 for about 1.1 million privately insured dental patients. Findings indicate that patients who received an opioid prescription from a dentist were given a median supply to last three days. Across all age groups over a six-year period, opioid prescriptions increased by 17 per 1,000 dental patients. The largest increase in opioid prescriptions was among patients aged 11 to 18; and 11-18 and 19-25 age groups received a higher median dose than all other age groups.
  • Prescription Monitoring Program (PMP) Data: Authors from Harvard School of Dental Medicine, Tufts University School of Dental Medicine and a retired Massachusetts State Police Detective Lieutenant provided 10 clinical scenarios dental prescribers might encounter and how to assess the PMP data from a clinical, risk assessment and law enforcement perspective.

“The JADA articles shine an important light on a public health epidemic from the dental perspective, and signal that while the percentage of opioids prescribed by dentists has decreased since 1998, we can continue to do even more to help keep opioids from being a source of harm,” said Dr. Crowley. “Working together with physicians, pharmacies, other healthcare professionals, policymakers and the public, we believe it is possible to end this tragic and preventable public health crisis that has been devastating our families and communities.”

For more information on how the ADA is working to combat opioid abuse, visit

About the ADA

The not-for-profit ADA is the nation's largest dental association, representing 163,000 dentist members. The premier source of oral health information, the ADA has advocated for the public's health and promoted the art and science of dentistry since 1859. The ADA's state-of-the-art research facilities develop and test dental products and materials that have advanced the practice of dentistry and made the patient experience more positive. The ADA Seal of Acceptance long has been a valuable and respected guide to consumer dental care products. The monthly The Journal of the American Dental Association (JADA) is the ADA's flagship publication and the best-read scientific journal in dentistry. For more information about the ADA, visit For more information on oral health, including prevention, care and treatment of dental disease, visit the ADA's consumer website