Skip to content
Features / September 3, 2014

What role can dentists play in curbing alcoholism?

by Guy Hiscott

Alcohol is killing one person per hour and sending 1.2 million to hospital each year in the UK and Northern Ireland, figures reveal.

Substance abuse charity Alcohelp is calling on the government to implement a series of measures to tackle alcohol misuse, such as restricting the sale of alcohol to specific times of the day.

Irish Dentistry spoke to leading dentists to find out how these new figures are affecting the public’s oral health.

Dr Helen Walsh, dentist at the award-winning Portobello Dental Clinic in Dublin, says: ‘Patients who drink lots suffer from tooth decay and erosion of the tooth surface. Alcoholic drinks are also well known to be high in sugar, which can contribute to the development of cavities.

‘Dry mouth can result from drinking and exacerbate periodontal disease, and people who drink a lot of alcohol are at a higher risk of sustaining tooth and facial injuries – through falls or fighting.

Dr Walsh continued by saying that the risk of oral cancer is six times higher in those who drink alcohol compared to non-drinkers.

Alchohelp’s statistics show that children are also at risk, with 80,000 babies in UK homes living with somebody who has a problem with alcohol.

We asked Dr Walsh whether she believes dentists have a duty to intervene if a patient suffers from alcoholism.

‘Yes,’ says Dr Walsh. ‘As part of the primary dental healthcare team, we are provided with a unique opportunity to intervene, particularly when asking patients about their levels of alcohol consumption as part of a routine medical history taking,’

So, can dental professionals provide any form of treatment for patients who they suspect might be at risk from alcohol substance abuse?

Dr Walsh believes they can, adding: ‘Individuals identified as misusing alcohol could be offered treatment after screenings, including brief motivational advice sessions from dentists and hygienists.’

Find out more about the Alcohelp’s campaign via its infographic.

What role do you think dentists play in helping patients suffering from alcoholism? Share your thoughts in the comments below