Barriers to and facilitators of opioid prescribing by dentists in the United States: A qualitative study

J Am Dent Assoc. 2022 Oct;153(10):957-969.e1. doi: 10.1016/j.adaj.2022.05.009. Epub 2022 Jul 19.


Background: Dentists in the United States frequently prescribe opioids for dental-related pain, although evidence shows superior efficacy of nonopioids for pain management. A national sample of US dentists was interviewed to understand the barriers and facilitators to opioid prescribing.

Methods: Semistructured one-on-one telephone interviews were conducted with dentists sampled from the 6 regions of The National Dental Practice-Based Research Network. Responses were coded into the domains of the Capability, Opportunity and Motivation Model of Behavior. Potential behavior change interventions were identified for targeted themes.

Results: Seventy-three interviews were qualitatively analyzed. Most of those interviewed were general dentists (86.3%) and on average (SD) were in practice for 24.3 (13.0) years. Ten themes were identified within the Capability, Opportunity and Motivation Model of Behavior. Dentists' knowledge of opioid risk, ability to identify substance use disorder behavior, and capability of communicating pain management plans to patients or following clinic policies or state and federal regulations were linked with judicious opioid prescribing. Dentists reported prescribing opioids if they determined clinical necessity or feared negative consequences for refusing to prescribe opioids.

Conclusions: Dentists' opioid decision making is influenced by a range of real-world practice experiences and patient and clinic factors. Education and training that target dentists' knowledge gaps and changes in dentists' practice environment can encourage effective communication of pain management strategies with patients and prescribing of nonopioids as first-line analgesics while conserving opioid use.

Practical implications: Identified knowledge gaps in dentistry can be targets for education, clinical guidelines, and policy interventions to ensure safe and appropriate prescribing of opioids.

Keywords: Qualitative; analgesics; barriers; decision making; dentists; facilitators; opioids.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Analgesics, Opioid* / therapeutic use
  • Dentists
  • Humans
  • Pain Management
  • Practice Patterns, Dentists'*
  • Practice Patterns, Physicians'
  • Qualitative Research
  • United States


  • Analgesics, Opioid