Oral Complications Arising From Pharmacotherapies to Treat Opioid Use Disorders


The Research Need

Buprenorphine to treat opioid use disorder is typically taken by mouth daily, over long periods of time. Buprenorphine is formulated as a tablet or film that is placed under the tongue or between the gums and cheeks so it can dissolve slowly. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration recently reported that oral buprenorphine can cause dental caries, dental abscesses or infections, tooth erosion, and tooth loss. Research is needed to address these harmful side effects of buprenorphine.

About the Program

This program supports basic research to understand how buprenorphine causes oral complications. Research explores changes in the mouth that result from buprenorphine administration and their effects on oral bacteria, saliva composition, pH, and other factors that may affect the integrity and physiology of teeth.

The program also supports clinical research to determine clinical progression and outcomes of oral disease in people taking medications for opioid use disorder. Research includes both newly developed oral complications and worsening of existing oral problems. Research also studies behavioral and psychosocial factors that influence oral health in people who take buprenorphine by mouth, the role of access to and quality of dental care for these individuals, and prevention strategies.

Research Examples

Research examples supported by this program include: 

  • Determining direct chemical effects of buprenorphine or other components of this medication on teeth and oral tissues
  • Identifying the effects of buprenorphine and other medications for opioid use disorder on the oral microbiome
  • Conducting clinical studies to determine the onset, extent, and rate of progression of oral complications in individuals taking buprenorphine
  • Identifying barriers to and facilitators of oral health care in people with opioid use disorder
  • Developing and evaluating strategies to prevent dental and oral disease in individuals receiving medications for opioid use disorder

  • Brigham and Women's Hospital – Massachusetts
  • University of Houston – Texas
  • University of Kentucky – Kentucky
  • University of Pittsburgh – Pennsylvania