Dentists 'should check for alcohol abuse'
Wednesday 04 April 2012
Dentists should screen patients for signs that they drink too much alcohol, researchers have said.
Questionnaires could be handed out at the start of consultations to identify those with hazardous drinking levels.
Dentists have a duty to promote the general health and wellbeing of the public as well as looking out for specific signs of mouth problems linked to drinking, the experts said.
Writing in the Royal College of Surgeon's Dental Journal, they added: "Alcohol misuse can impact on the oral health of patients attending primary care services in numerous ways.
"Excessive alcohol consumption is not only a risk factor for sustaining orofacial injury (either through falls, road traffic accidents or interpersonal violence) but also implicated in the aetiology of potentially fatal oral disease, including cancers of the mouth, larynx, pharynx and oesophagus."
They said patients who drink lots also suffer tooth decay and erosion of the tooth surface.
Alcoholic drinks high in sugar may also contribute to the development of cavities.
"After screening, the individuals identified as misusing alcohol could then be offered treatment, including brief motivational advice sessions delivered by hygienists or dental nurses," said experts, including from the University of Cardiff.
"Liaison with the patients' medical practitioner could also result in referral for specialist care should the patient demonstrate alcohol dependence or depression, for example."
The team said patients tend to go to their GP because they are ill but often visit a dentist as a preventative measure for a routine check-up.
"This provides the primary dental healthcare team with unique opportunities to intervene, particularly as asking patients about their levels of alcohol consumption is a routine component of medical history taking."
Jonathan Shepherd, professor of oral and maxillofacial surgery from the University of Cardiff's School of Dentistry, and lead author of the paper, said: "Excessive alcohol consumption can lead to cancer of the mouth, larynx and oesophagus and dentists may be the first to notice these conditions.
"So we need to introduce an alcohol screening tool that reliably detects hazardous and harmful drinking alongside effective treatment."
Prof Shepherd said an estimated one in five men and one in seven women in the UK regularly binge-drink, which costs the UK economy approximately £25 billion a year.
"The dental team has a responsibility to promote overall health and not just dental health," he added.
"Dentists and the Government must work together to develop and deliver screening and treatment by intervening early."
British Dental Association chief executive Peter Ward said: "We agree that the dental examination is an ideal time to promote oral and general health messages.
"It is well recognised that excessive alcohol consumption, alongside smoking, increases the risk of developing oral cancer and gum disease so the dentist has always had an important role to play in reinforcing these health messages and detecting such cancers.
"The opportunity for dentists to concentrate more on preventive messages is currently being tested in dental pilots in England."
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