Woman visiting the dentist for pain.

How to Manage Dental Pain Without Opioids

September 1, 2020

If you’ve ever been prescribed an opioid painkiller by your dentist to help with dental pain, you aren’t alone.

According to the American Journal of Preventive Medicine in 2012, dentists prescribe 6.4% of the total opioid prescriptions in the United States. Most commonly, these painkillers are meant to treat dental pain associated with procedures like root canals and tooth extraction.

Using prescription painkillers to manage pain is a decision that should be taken very seriously, especially if you are a parent or guardian. Since the 1990s, the number of Americans addicted to opioids has grown significantly, with over half of the opioids prescribed after dental surgeries consumed by someone other than the actual patient.*

Knowing the dangers associated with prescription painkillers, you might find yourself looking for an alternative to pain management therapies. But before we unpack the details, remember no matter how you choose to manage your dental pain (with or without prescriptions), you should always consult with your dentist before moving forward with any pain management plan. Your dentist can educate you on the appropriate use, risks and alternatives of various pharmacotherapy.

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Common Dental Pain Management Alternatives to Opioids



You may know them as Aspirin or ibuprofen, but non-steroidal and anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are an evidence-based, non-opioid pain management solution for the treatment of acute dental pain. NSAIDs help by providing effective pain relief caused by inflammation in the bone, dental pulp, and gum. In fact, the American Dental Association recommends dentists to consider NSAIDs as a first-line therapy for acute pain management. Studies found that NSAIDs taken after a dental procedure are at least as effective (or superior to) opioids for reducing frequency and intensity of acute dental pain. NSAIDs are usually over-the-counter, but your dentist may prescribe you a higher dosage based on your pain levels.


Another option for managing dental pain is the use of Acetaminophen (brand name Tylenol). It's another over-the-counter medicine commonly used to treat physical pain and fever.

NSAIDs and Acetaminophen

Your dentist may determine your level of pain requires more than a single medication. In that case, your dentist may put you on a treatment plan that involves both a NSAID and Acetaminophen. Acetaminophen has been shown to have a synergistic effect when taken with ibuprofen for the treatment of acute dental pain, with efficacy similar or superior to opioid therapy.

Talk to Your Dentist About Dental Pain Management

If you intend on having dental treatment, make sure you talk to your dentist about your pain management options. Only your dentist can best educate you on the risks and dangers of prescription painkillers.

Want to learn more?

Talk to your dentist. If you have any questions about taking opioids for dental pain, ask them. They're happy to explain how it works and whether it is a good fit for you.

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*Maughan BC, Hersh EV, et al. Unused opioid analgesics and drug disposal following outpatient dental surgery: a randomized controlled trial. Drug and Alcohol Dependence. 2016. 168:328-34.

*Ashrafioun L, Edwards PC, Bohnert AS, et al. Nonmedical use of pain medications in dental patients. Am J Drug Alcohol Abuse. 2014;40:312–316.