Yes, dentists can prescribe medication, but the difference between dentists and other medical practitioners can be pretty confusing at times. Though you know enough to go to the dentist for a toothache or an extraction, the limits of what they can do are often unclear to a layman. A common question most people ask is; can dentists prescribe medication or what medication can/can’t a dentist prescribe?
Dentists are specialized medical doctors, so they have authority to prescribe medication. Still, their specialty is oral health, so they only prescribe medication for conditions relating to your face and mouth. This includes dental pain relievers, antibiotics, anti-inflammatory medications, or sedatives.
This article will fully explain the status of dentists as doctors and the conditions under which they can prescribe these different types of medication. Keep reading to also find out the difference in dental regulations in the US states, and what medications dentists are not allowed to prescribe.
Table of Contents
- Are dentists doctors?
- Can dentists prescribe medication?
- What medications can dentists prescribe?
- What medications are dentists not allowed to prescribe?
Dentists are doctors with either a Doctor of Dental Surgery (DDS) or Doctor of Medicine in Dentistry (DMS) degree. Like general medical doctors, dentists train in general medicine, pathology, and pharmacology. Later on, they specialize in oral health which is the focus of their practice.
As professionals, dentists perform functions like:
- Diagnosing and treating oral health conditions
- Maintaining the well-being of their patients as it relates to their mouths
- Performing major and minor surgical procedures around the oral region
- Managing emergency situations like accidents that affect the oral region.
The oral region of the body that dentists treat goes far beyond the mouth, though. It also includes the teeth, jaw, tongue, muscles, and nerves in the head and neck.
The dental specialty is largely limited to oral health. However, there’s an entire profession dedicated to it because that alone is a really extensive area of the body. A lot of different conditions can arise in the face and mouth, so yes dentists can prescribe medication, but limited range of medications to treat them.
Dentists can only prescribe medications for dental conditions though the medication they prescribe can also be effective for other purposes. The common classes of medication prescribed by dentists are pain relievers, sedatives, antibiotics, and antifungals.
Let’s explore these medications further.
Pain Relievers (Analgesics)
Pain relievers, also called analgesics, are one of the most commonly-prescribed dental medications. According to research, up to 22.3% of prescriptions by dentists in the US in 2016 were pain relievers.
Most common dental conditions like mouth sores and toothache are quite painful, so pain relievers are pretty important in dentistry. Even dental procedures like tooth extraction or aesthetic tools like dentures and braces can cause pain and discomfort. To help with that, your dentist can prescribe pain relievers.
These pain relievers have different intensities depending on the pain level. They can also come in the form of common tablets and capsules, or as gels, pastes, ointments, or even lozenges.
Sedatives and Anesthetics
A dental procedure like a tooth extraction or complex maxillofacial surgery on the jaw can be quite painful. Like with other surgeries, your dental surgeon can prescribe an anesthetic to deaden your sensitivity to pain.
There are two types of anesthesia, and your dentist could choose either type for you based on the type of surgery you’ll be having and your medical history. These types are:
- Local anesthesia. With this type, your dental surgeon prescribes an anesthetic to deaden only a small area of your body. You’ll be awake throughout your procedure, but the anesthesia will make you insensitive to pain in the area where it’s used. It might reduce your anxiety as well.
- General anesthesia. If your dental surgeon prescribes general anesthesia instead, you’ll have a combination of medications, including sedatives. The dentist usually injects these medications into the veins to cause a sleep-like, completely unconscious state. Unlike with local anesthesia, your entire body won’t feel pain when you’re under general anesthesia.
Antibiotics and Antifungals
Many dental infections are caused or made worse by bacteria, like in tooth decay or fungi in oral thrush. Your dentist can prescribe antibiotics or antifungal medications to help your immune system kill the bacteria and fungi.
You also have an increased risk of getting an infection after having a surgical procedure. Therefore, a dentist can prescribe a broad-spectrum antibiotic to help you reduce the risk of infection ahead of your surgery.
The scope of medication dentists can prescribe is not limited to this list. They can also prescribe:
- Anti-inflammatory medication
- Muscle relaxants
- Saliva substitutes
And many other medications to treat your condition as they see fit.
Dentists cannot prescribe medication to treat conditions outside the regulations of their specialty – the oral-facial complex. And since they only specialize in that single area, they cannot prescribe any medication for a non-dental condition, even if the medication is covered by their regulations.
The situations in which dentists cannot prescribe medication depend majorly on two factors – the type of the medication, and the purpose of the prescription.
Types of Medications Dentists Cannot Prescribe
Dentists cannot prescribe all types of medication because there is a limited range of prescriptions covered by their specialty. The medications they are allowed to prescribe are those generally used to treat medical conditions within the mouth and the region of the face that dentists specialize in.
Prescribing any type of medication that is not covered by this regulation would be considered a violation of that regulation. A dentist cannot prescribe cough or cold medication, for example, because these are not dental conditions. Therefore, they are not covered by the regulations, though related to the mouth.
A dentist who prescribes any medication outside the limits of this regulation will be disciplined by the governing board in their jurisdiction.
Purposes For Which Dentists Cannot Prescribe Medication
Even though dentists receive general medical training, they can only prescribe medication to treat dental conditions. Additionally, it is still a violation for a dentist to prescribe medication for a non-dental condition – even for medication covered by their regulations.
Situations Where Dentists Can Not Prescribe Medication
The general ethical code for doctors treating patients also applies to dentists. This means that they usually cannot prescribe medication without getting the medical history of the patient, even if they have a casual relationship, like with family and friends.
Also, a dentist has to record every medication they prescribe to a patient and document it in a file. Of course, this medication has to be covered by dental regulations prescribed only for a dental condition.
The dentists can prescribe medication, but not all types of medication. The scope of dental pharmacology and dentistry, by extension, is very wide. With medicine evolving every day, there are many new ways your dentist can treat your condition. If you have concerns about your treatment, or whether your dentist can prescribe certain medication, you can check the dental practice act for your state.
Thanks for reading!
- Buford Dentist: Can a General Dentist in Buford Prescribe Medication If Needed?
- Cleveland Clinic: Dentistry Medications – What are they, what they do
- Bureau of Labour Statistics: Dentist – Occupational Outlook Handbook
- MeDental: What Do Dentists Do
- National Library of Medicine: Comparison of Opioid Prescribing by Dentists in the United States and England
- Mayo Clinic: General anesthesia
- Dental Assisting National Board: State Dental Practice Acts
About The Author
M.D Mark D. is a Health and Wellness professional writer. Mark has authored many health articles around the following topics: Men’s Health, Women’s Health, Fitness, Nutrition, Pets Health, Mental Health, Medicine, and Supplements.