SoCal oral surgeon encourages use of new pain-relieving drug instead of opioids

The latest research shows opioid-related deaths have quadrupled in the last 20 years.

Getting these types of painkillers after a dental procedure is quite common.

One local oral surgeon is putting the brakes on prescribing opioids - especially to his youngest patients.

Chase Tillman has healthy teeth, but four molars had to be extracted.

"My wisdom teeth were like pushing my braces in and they were like hurting my front teeth," the 16-year-old said.

During the procedure, oral and maxillofacial surgeon Dr. Steven Kupferman did something different to reduce Tillman's pain during recovery.

"I gave you a very long-acting novocaine, which is a new medication that we're using for people who have their wisdom teeth taken out," Kupferman said.

The novel pain reliever is called Exparel.

"Because of the opioid crisis, we're trying to avoid giving patients opioids," Kupferman said.

The National Safety Council recently announced that Americans are now more likely to die of an accidental opioid overdose than in a car crash.

Getting wisdom teeth extracted is usually the first time young people are exposed to surgery and consequently strong painkillers such as Vicodin and Oxycodone.

"It's really changed the way I practice. I don't have to give pain pills to anybody anymore," Kupferman said.

Exparel is injected directly into the area that's being worked on. The pain-relieving effects can last up to four days.

"This one is actually encapsulated," Kupferman said. "It slowly dissolves. The cocoon or this fat cell slowly dissolves and the medication seeps out and continues to give this novocaine feeling in the area."

After 28-year-old Michael Kwan's wisdom teeth were removed, all he had to take was some ibuprofen.

"The next two days it was hard to open my mouth, but the pain wasn't that bad, " Kwan said.

Kupferman hopes more and more dentists will look at other options like Exparel instead of opioids.

"That's been a tremendous help for me and a tremendous help for my patients," he said, "And I think it's the future."
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