New Research Being Conducted at Rutgers for Opioid Alternatives Could Lead to Less Potential Drug Abuse for those Having Wisdom Teeth Surgery

Recently this past year many posts appeared on this site discussing opioids being given after wisdom teeth surgery. Such posts include Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons Current Perspectives on Opioid Prescribing, Do Oral Surgeons Give Too Many Opioids for Wisdom Teeth Removal?, Important Studies on Opioid Prescribing: Implications for Dentistry, and Studies and Opinions on Opioids After Wisdom Teeth Removal. It is clear that finding viable alternatives to opioids without the same addicting qualities is a worthwhile endeavor. A potential opioid alternative was discussed in the post Long-acting Local Anesthetic After Wisdom Teeth Removal.

Recently in September, 2019, Rutgers School of Dental Medicine was awarded an $11.7 million grant from the National Institutes of Health to conduct research on the combination of ibuprofen and acetaminophen to be used as an alternative to opioids [1]. This study will involve 1,800 patients and will attempt to answer if combining ibuprofen and acetaminophen can treat acute pain as effectively as opioids. The study can be conducted for up to six years. The study will involve patients at the dental clinic at Rutgers who have teeth removed. The patients will be followed up for up to seven days after surgery. Specifically half of the patients in the study will receive Vicodin which contains hydrocodone, an opioid, while the other half receive acetaminophen and ibuprofen. The patients will be monitored for the level of pain experienced, self-dosages amounts, and side effects. In addition, the authors will look into future opioid use of the patients to determine if patients go on to abuse opioids. The study will also include patients at the University of Michigan, the University of Illinois, the University of Maryland, and the University of Rochester.

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The study results will surely have a direct impact on patients who have wisdom teeth surgery as opioids in the past have commonly been given. Recent media reports have also highlighted the tolls opioid exposure due to wisdom teeth removal can have. For example, a CBS News article [2] discusses the case of a 22 year old woman who had wisdom teeth removed in 2017. She was given opioids to deal with the pain after the surgery. She was given a five day supply and received several refills. Shen then started using heroin and 15 months after the wisdom teeth surgery was dead as a result of an overdose. In another case described by CBS Pittsburgh [3] a 17 year old woman became addicted to opioids after being give them for pain relief after wisdom teeth surgery. This led to being in and out of rehab six times. In another case described in the DailyMail [4] a 19 year old man had wisdom teeth extracted in 2015 and given opioids after the surgery. He became addicted and has overdosed more than 60 times.


  1. Carrie Stelter,” Rutgers School of Dental Medicine Receives $11.7 Million Federal Grant to Research Alternatives to Opioids“, Rutgers Today, Sept. 30, 2019.
  2. Wisdom teeth removal is contributing to the opioid crisis, experts warn,” CBS News, Aug. 21, 2019.
  3. Susan Koeppen, “‘I May Have Well Been Her Drug Dealer’: Wisdom Teeth Removal Playing Part In Opioid Epidemic Among Teens,” CBS Pittsburgh, Nov. 1, 2019.
  4. Associated Press,”How a simple wisdom tooth extraction left a 22-year-old with a crippling opioid addiction and SIXTY near-fatal overdoses – as his mum warns crisis ravaging the US will devastate Australia next” DailyMail. Sept. 7, 2019.

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