Dentists should screen for alcohol abuse

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 high 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 Surgeons Dental Journal, they said: ‘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.

‘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 preventive measure for a routine check-up.

Jonathan Shepherd, professor of oral and maxillofacial surgery from the University of Cardiff’s School of Dentistry, and lead author of the paper, said: ‘Excessive alcohol consumption can lead to cancer of the mouth, larynx and oesophagus and dentists may be the first to notice these conditions.’

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