By Dr Ananya Mandal, MD
Soon it may be dentists who routinely ask their patients how much they drink.
The UK Government is proposing that dentists should question their patients on alcohol consumption, or that dental receptionists hand out drinking questionnaires to patients to be filled in while they wait for appointments. The plans have been drawn up by dentists at Cardiff University to try to combat excessive drinking. Patients who are deemed to drink too much would be referred on to sessions with dental nurses or hygienists for advice on cutting down.
This comes after a recent proposal to give family doctors a bonus for asking patients about their drinking habits, though dentists feel they are better placed to spot any problems and warning signs of excessive drinking such as tooth decay or cancers.
Writing in the Royal College of Surgeon's Dental Journal, the team 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 etiology of potentially fatal oral disease, including cancers of the mouth, larynx, pharynx and esophagus.”
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.”