Dentists urged to look for problem drinkers

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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 a lot 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.”