According to researchers at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health, 77% of dentists ask their patient about illicit drug use, and 54% of dentists believe these screenings should be their responsibility. Findings from the study are published in the journal Addiction.

Researchers sampled 1,802 dentists in general practice from a nationally representative survey conducted by the American Dental Association Survey Center from 2010–2011. Results of the survey showed an growing recognition about the need to better mesh oral and systemic health. However, “questions remain about the feasibility of offering preventive screening and testing alongside dental care,” noted principal investigator Lisa Metsch, PhD.

Dentists who acknowledge substance misuse screening as part of their professional role were more likely to inquire about misuse with their patients than dentists who did not embrace these screenings as part of their responsibility (86% vs. 68%). The dentists’ greater prior training and knowledge of substance use was linked to a greater agreement with the purpose of use and health history forms including substance misuse questions.

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Health history forms with questions about substance misuse were less likely to be reported by older dentists vs. younger dentists. In addition, dentists with median age <53 years (62%) were more likely to say that illicit drug use screening should be a part of the dentists’ role vs. their senior peers (47%). In regards to gender, 61% of female dentists agreed that illicit drug use screening should be the role of the dentist than their male peers (52%).

More studies that assess patient attitudes on substance misuse are important in evaluating patients’ acceptance levels. More education on awareness, comfort, and knowledge of substance misuse may also be needed as dentists are the second largest group of prescribers of opioid pain medication.

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