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New Report Shows TennCare Policy Changes Greatly Reduced Opioid Prescriptions Issued by Tennessee Dentists

New prior authorization requirements and dosage limits reduced opioid prescriptions dispensed to Medicaid dental patients by more than 45% from 2017 to 2019

A report released today by the DentaQuest Partnership for Oral Health Advancement reveals that far fewer opioid prescriptions were written to TennCare dental patients in 2019 than 2017, indicating a policy change made by TennCare to reduce the number of opioids dispensed to dental patients has proven successful. The corresponding decrease in the number of overdose deaths in Tennessee from 2017 to 2018 connected to prescription opioids points to how policy changes can lead to meaningful improvements in health outcomes.

Specifically, the report showed that, while the number of TennCare patients ages 0 to 20 who received dental care in 2019 remained substantially similar to the number in 2017, nearly 11,000 fewer opioid prescriptions were issued in 2019, a difference of 45%. 

“Reducing the high prescribing rates of opioids is a national work in progress, and COVID-19 has increased challenges for those dealing with addiction.” said Steve Pollock, President and CEO of DentaQuest. “A recent investigation into all areas of prescribing – medical and dental included – showed that enough prescriptions are being written for half of all Americans to have one, and TennCare is leading the way to drive these numbers down in Tennessee.”  

Additional data findings between 2017 and 2019 include: 

  • A 35% decline in the percentage of patients receiving an opioid prescription.
  • A decline of 57% in nonsurgical opioid prescriptions.
  • A significant 83% drop in the number of TennCare dental patients receiving higher dose prescriptions.

“Reducing overexposure to opioids, especially for individuals who have not previously used opioids, has been a priority for TennCare as part of our broad efforts to address the opioid crisis,” said Dr. Victor Wu, TennCare chief medical officer. “This report is encouraging because it shows focused efforts can meaningfully reduce unneeded opioid prescriptions, and in turn, lower the potential risk for opioid dependency for our members.” 

“The opioid epidemic continues to rage,” said Dr. Myechia Minter-Jordan, President and CEO of the DentaQuest Partnership for Oral Health Advancement and Catalyst Institute, Inc. “What’s clear, however, is that Tennessee’s policies have resulted in fewer unnecessary opioid prescriptions being issued by dentists. TennCare’s model is one that other states should consider as they continue to battle the opioid crisis.”  

The findings included in this report shed light on the significant practical impact of the state’s efforts to reduce the dosage, number and duration of opioids prescribed to patients, including new prior authorization requirements and dosage limits that TennCare implemented in 2018. Read the full report here.  

About DentaQuest

DentaQuest is a purpose-driven oral health care company dedicated to improving the oral health of all. We do this through Preventistry® – our all-in approach to better care, expanded access, value-based financing, and innovative solutions. We manage dental and vision benefits for 27+ million Americans and direct patient care through our network of more than 80 oral health centers in 6 states. We provide outcomes-based, cost-effective dental solutions for Medicaid and CHIP, Medicare Advantage, small and large businesses, and individuals nationwide. And, we've invested more than $200 million in grants and programs to achieve measurably healthier communities across the country. By advancing prevention-focused oral health, we will achieve better overall health for everyone. Learn more at and follow us on Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, and Twitter.