A visit to the dentist has the potential to be more than a check-up of our teeth as patients are increasingly screened for medical conditions like heart disease and diabetes. New research from the US has focused on dental screenings for drug misuse, finding that 77% of dentists ask patients about illicit drug use, and 54% believe that such screenings should be their responsibility.
The researchers sampled 1,802 US dentists in general practice. Those dentists who embraced substance misuse screening as part of their professional role were more likely to ask patients about misuse (86%), compared with those who did not accept such screenings as their responsibility (68%). Older dentists were less likely to report that their health history form included questions about substance misuse, and more female dentists (61%) than male (52%) agreed that illicit drug use screening should be the role of the dentist.
Drug use can have a negative impact on dental as well as overall health. Patterns of oral health pathology attributed to methamphetamine users, for example, include rampant tooth decay, accelerated tooth wear, unexplained advanced gum disease and missing multiple teeth.
Furthermore, dentists are the second largest group of prescribers of opioid pain medication. This means that dentists may encounter substance-seeking patients who complain of pain more severe than anticipated based on their dental condition, or who report lost prescriptions for pain medication. Researchers emphasised the need for communication between dentist and patient, and said that further education may be needed to increase dentists’ awareness of these issues.