Substance abuse screening at the dentist’s office has become more common with the rise of opioid abuse.
According to a study conducted by researchers at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health, 77 percent of dentists ask patients about drug use, and 54 percent believe that drug screening should be their responsibility. One of the reasons for this sense of responsibility is the increase in opioid abuse across the nation.
It is estimated that a larger proportion of the general population is more likely to see a dentist than a medical doctor. Yet, dentists are mentioned less frequently than other healthcare providers in relation to drug abuse and addiction. A high percentage of individuals have dental issues related to past or current drug use. Methamphetamines are among the leading cause of tooth decay and loss of teeth. Illicit drug abuse in general is detrimental not only to physical health, but also to dental health. Tobacco and alcohol use are also culprits, being the primary risk factor for oral cancer. Tobacco is also linked to early tooth loss and gingivitis.
Another important reason for drug screening is that dentists are the second largest providers of pain-relieving opioid medications. Because people are likely to see a dentist sporadically, such as when they are suffering pain, it may be difficult for a dentist to know when and if pain medications are truly necessary. Dentists can be a target for people who are “doctor shopping.”
Dentists who are taking the steps to screen their patients are making a move in the right direction. Knowing a patient’s previous or current drug use status can help prevent an overdose and save lives. Awareness of a patient’s reasons for their dental visit, looking into their chart to see their dental history, and contacting the previous dentist they have seen before prescribing narcotic pain relievers are some of the precautions dental providers can take. Helping their patients to manage pain with alternative medications is another solution to the opioid epidemic.
Prescription Drug Abuse Among Dental Patients: Scope, Prevention, and Management Considerations, Updated 1st Edition. (2013, October 1). Retrieved August, 2016.
Dentists Tapped for New Role: Drug Screenings. (2015, August 13). Retrieved August, 2016.