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Dentists to Screen for Alcohol Problems

Researchers have recently published advice in the Royal College of Surgeons Dental Journal that dentists should screen their patients for alcohol problems. The paper shines a light on people’s habits when it comes to doctor versus dentist visits and notes that approximately 1 in 5 men and 1 in 7 women are drinking excessively in the UK pointing towards the need for early interventions.
The published paper is titled “Alcohol misuse: screening and treatment in primary dental care”.View News Source

At first sight it might seem rather strange that a dentist should be asking about alcohol consumption but, as these researchers suggest, dentists are more likely to be involved in health screening than doctors. People tend to go to the doctor when they are already ill whereas screening and prevention are already part of the psyche and practice of dental surgeries ( I wonder also if we aren’t slightly more receptive to preventative ideas while listening to the scream of the dentists drill in the next door room! ).

Detecting a problem with alcohol isn’t easy from the state of someone’s teeth. The researchers point out that a dentist might detect inflamed throats and dissolved back teeth if a lot of vomiting has occurred but, realistically, by the time these two symptoms are apparent, it would be pretty obvious by many other means that there is a problem. Instead, I suspect that the information is more likely to come from questions and forms that are collected at the practices as a matter of course.

This has to be a good idea from a recovery perspective. At present people intervene far too little and far too late in an alcoholic or addict’s life. When we have problems with alcohol we are often in some denial and so when the people that one might expect to have concerns are instead silent, we are likely to take this as a form of tacit approval for our behaviour. I can’t tell you the number of times families have come to us absolutely distraught and wish that the family doctor or any outside party would make some form of early intervention.

In the treatment profession, as in other areas of medicine, we have looked at ways to try to intervene earlier and earlier in our patients illnesses. One of the most successful methods of doing this is a process called intervention which itself involves getting family and friends to express their concerns to the addict in a supportive way. As this works so well it must make sense to get as many people as possible to express their concerns at an earlier point in someones problems. Dentists are absolutely doing the right thing if they step up in this way.

It may initially seem like a rather strange place for this advice to be coming from but surely more professions should be looking to do the same sort of thing? What if lawyers were able to advise clients to get help for their alcohol problems or other compulsive behaviours rather than getting a divorce, or another drunk driving ticket? I know in better legal practices this occurs but it’s surprising how rare it still is. Even the hairdresser and the shop keeper could play a part. It may seem like a liberty and an invasion of privacy if all these people start expressing their concerns but actually it’s far worse that they currently stand by and let people destroy themselves whilst saying so very little.

Well done to the dentists that implement this, let’s hope others follow.


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