Challenges of Proper Dental Care for Drug Users

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While we already know the negative effects of drug use on oral health, a report from the University of Queensland’s School of Dentistry highlights the challenges of proper dental care for drug users.


Dr. Hooman Baghaie combined the results of 28 studies from around the world, which collectively provided data on 4,086 patients with substance use disorder, and found that people with substance use disorders had more tooth decay and periodontal disease than the general population, but were less likely to receive dental care.


“Drug use affects oral health through direct physiological routes such as dry mouth, an increased urge for snacking, the clenching and grinding of teeth, and chemical erosion from applying cocaine to teeth and gums. The lifestyles of problematic drug users often include high sugar diets, malnutrition, poor oral hygiene, and lack of regular visits to a dentist.”


Challenges of Proper Dental Care for Drug Users

Furthermore, Dr. Baghaie pointed out that dental care tends to be compromised even more by difficulties in treating patients who may be drug affected or tolerant to painkillers and anaesthetics.


Dr. Baghaie proposes that dentists and doctors take simple steps to improve the health of patients, especially those who belong to the approximately three million people globally start using drugs each year.


Specifically, Dr. Baghaie suggests the following:


“Dentists should screen their patients for substance use, notice any advanced dental or periodontal disease inconsistent with a patient’s age and consider referral to medical doctors for management.


In patients with suspected substance use disorders, dentists should be aware of issues concerning treatment and consent when the patient is intoxicated and be alert to the possibility of resistance to painkillers.


Doctors and clinicians who care for people with substance use disorders should screen for oral diseases and arrange for dental care as needed, consider using sugar-free preparations when prescribing methadone, and warn patients of the oral health risks associated with dry mouth and cravings for sweet foods.”


By looking into these challenges of proper dental care for drug users, we are given a peak into how difficult these health issues are not just for those who suffer from substance use but also for the dental practitioners.

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