Dentists on frontline in war on alcohol abuse

Dentists are to be put on the frontline in the battle against Scotland’s burgeoning alcohol crisis.

Alcohol misuse is estimated to cost the country an estimated £2.25 billion a year and a research team at Glasgow University’s dental school is now looking at the best ways to reduce this growing financial burden.

It could mean dental professionals quizzing patients about their alcohol intake – and the dental school team is now working with the NHS to develop a suitable scheme.

The research team also highlighted the shocking extent of facial injuries linked to alcohol abuse.
Its figures reveal that, between 2001 and 2006, 82,461 patients had been admitted to Scottish hospitals with facial injuries – more than a quarter of them had been drinking alcohol.

Dr Christine Goodall, a senior clinical lecturer in oral surgery, said they found that giving people advice about safer drinking when they attended A&E or facial trauma clinics helped reduce future problems.

These ‘brief interventions’ could be provided in a range of locations to make sure as wide a spectrum of people as possible received any help they needed, she said.

She explained: ‘The first study we did has shown that they were effective in helping people cut down on their drinking. By doing that, we are trying to prevent them suffering a second injury. Currently, dentists are not providing these sorts of interventions in their practice, but that is something that I am working on together with Health Scotland.’

Dr Goodall said such a system in dental practices would probably mean all patients being screened for alcohol problems, with those scoring highly, referred for extra help.

At the moment, you go to the dentist and you get asked about how much sugar you are eating and quite a lot of dentists do smoking cessation advice as that has a big association with oral cancer. This is the next step

She maintained that the direct questioning technique failed to offend the majority of patients.

‘We did a pilot study a couple of years ago. The one thing that came out of that very strongly was that patients were not offended by that at all. They saw it as a reasonable thing for the dentist to be asking them and felt it was important for their oral health as well. Alcohol is a big factor involved in causing oral cancer. If you explain that to patients they are OK about it.’

She said they had recently completed a survey of dental practices in Scotland to see how much training dentists felt they would need to screen patients for alcohol problems. The results are awaited and it is hoped the scheme could be introduced in the near future.

She added: ‘At the moment, you go to the dentist and you get asked about how much sugar you are eating and quite a lot of dentists do smoking cessation advice as that has a big association with oral cancer. This is the next step.

‘The good thing about dentists as opposed to a hospital unit is that dentists see patients regularly and are seeing patients who are not at the doctor’s all the time.’

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