Dentists adopting new role as illicit drug screeners - WBRC FOX6 News - Birmingham, AL

Dentists adopting new role as illicit drug screeners

Dentists may need to further their education to be able to direct patients abusing substances to treatment centers, researchers say. (Source: Pixabay) Dentists may need to further their education to be able to direct patients abusing substances to treatment centers, researchers say. (Source: Pixabay)

(RNN) - Younger, female dentists are more likely than older, male dentists to ask patients about their use of illicit drugs, substances that can negatively impact dental and overall health, a new study says.

A visit to the dentist is the only interaction many people have with the healthcare system, said Carrigan Parish, a researcher at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health. That fact, she said in a recent news release, highlights “the significance of the dental visit as a key opportunity to identify substance use disorders” and to refer people to places for treatment.

Researchers, focusing on dental screenings for drug misuse, found that 77 percent of dentists ask patients about illicit drug use and 54 percent believe they should do so.

The journal Addiction published the results, which researchers based on the health-history form questions of 1,802 U.S. dentists in general practice.

Illegal drug use screening should be the role of the dentist, agreed more doctors under the median age of 53 (62 percent) than older ones (47 percent) and agreed more female dentists (61 percent) than male (52 percent). Dentists with prior knowledge about substance misuse, as opposed to those without it, were more likely to consider such screening part of their role. 

Illicit drug use can cause problems that include tooth decay, accelerated tooth wear and gum disease, the researchers said, and can result in patients asking dentists, the second-largest group of prescribers of narcotic pain medicines like OxyContin and Vicodin, for such medicine.

“Because dental care routinely involves treating pain and emergencies, dentists may encounter substance-seeking patients who complain of pain more severe than anticipated based on the nature of their dental condition, who report lost prescriptions for opioid pain medications, or who only seek dental treatment sporadically,” Parish said.

Dentists may need to further their education to be able to direct patients abusing substances to treatment centers, she said.

“In order for substance misuse screening to be compatible with the dental setting, two-way communication between patient and dentist needs to occur more openly,” Parish said.

Although more than three-quarters of the dentists reported that they asked their patients about substance misuse, the study concluded, two-thirds disagree that such screening is compatible with their professional role. The study did not reveal the feelings of dental patients about the illicit-drug screenings.

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