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Dentists Could Assist in Screening for Alcohol Problems

Posted in Alcohol Abuse

A trip to the dentist could reveal that a new cavity may be forming, that it’s time for wisdom teeth to be pulled, or the need for the dreaded root canal. But what if a dental visit could also detect early stages of oral cancer or help provide treatment for alcohol abuse?

Some people visit their dentists more often than their family physicians. If they are feeling healthy, then they may not feel a need to schedule an annual physical with their doctor. However, they know that a 6 to 12-month dentist check-up can keep their pearly whites from acquiring multiple layers of plaque.

Because dentists may see their patients more often than doctors, researchers from Britain’s University of Cardiff suggest that dentists start screening their patients for alcohol abuse. Massive amounts of alcohol can cause multiple oral problems. In a research article in the Royal College of Surgeons’ Dental Journal, lead author, Professor Jack Shepherd, suggested that if dentists recognize alcohol problems in their patients, they could not only help prevent future dental problems, but could help halt a person’s dangerous abuse of alcohol.

Oral Problems Caused by Alcohol

It is sensible that dentists would inquire whether or not their patients drank large amounts of alcohol. Excessive amounts of alcohol can cause teeth to decay, cavities, and enamel erosion. At its worst, binge drinking can contribute to cancer of the mouth, larynx, and esophagus.

A dental questionnaire that includes questions on the frequency of alcohol use could help dentists alert their patients to their risks of tooth problems and more life-threatening illnesses.

Dual Duties in Preventive Health Care

Researchers believe that while dentists keep providing oral care, they can also be sirens for problems of alcohol abuse. Professor Shepherd believes that dentists might be in the best position to notice early warning signs of alcohol abuse.

Together with the government, they could develop new screening techniques for patients, reach individuals in early stages of their alcohol abuse, and help the individuals get proper treatment before they do any more harm to their bodies.

Dental hygienists or nurses could offer informational support sessions to help patients identified as abusing alcohol and could even provide referrals of where the patient could get treatment for alcohol abuse.

One More Team Member in Substance Abuse Prevention

Peter Ward, the Chief Executive of the British Dental Association (BDA), is on board with the idea. He sees merit in Shepherd’s ideas. Much of the dentistry world focuses on preventive care- care for the entire body. Teeth tell many tales of a body’s overall health, and dentists can use these signs to help a patient heal holistically. One thing affects another and the healing of one part of the body will be healthier for the rest.

The BDA is expanding its preventive care for teeth to include focusing on helping their patients find treatment for alcohol abuse. Pilot projects are currently being conducted on this expanded preventive care in England.