Dentists can help detect drinkers at risk of cancer
DENTISTS should screen patients for signs that they drink too much alcohol, researchers have claimed.
Questionnaires could be handed out at the start of consultations to identify those with hazardous drinking levels.
Dentists could be a first line of defence looking out for specific signs of mouth problems linked to drinking, according to a paper in the Royal College of Surgeons’ Dental Journal.
Jonathan Shepherd, professor of oral and maxillofacial surgery from the University of Cardiff’s School of Dentistry, and lead author of the paper, said: “Dentists and the government must work together to develop and deliver screening and treatment by intervening early.
“Excessive alcohol consumption can lead to cancer of the mouth, larynx and oesophagus, and dentists may be the first to notice these conditions.
“So we need to introduce an alcohol screening tool that reliably detects hazardous and harmful drinking alongside effective treatment.”
Prof Shepherd said about one in five men and one in seven women in the UK regularly binge-drink, which costs the UK economy £25 billion a year.
“The dental team has a responsibility to promote overall health and not just dental health,” he esaid.
The paper in the RCS Dental Journal suggests dentists could be a new front line in the fight against health problems caused by alcohol.
“After screening, the individuals identified as misusing alcohol could then be offered treatment, including brief motivational advice sessions delivered by hygienists or dental nurses,” it said. “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 paper’s authors also say patients who drink a lot may also suffer tooth decay and erosion of the tooth surface.
The British Dental Association’s national director for Scotland, Andrew Lamb, said he thought dentists would support the call to help combat problem drinking.
He said: “We agree that the dental examination is an ideal time to promote oral and general health messages.
“It is recognised that excessive alcohol consumption, alongside smoking, increases the risk of developing oral cancer and gum disease, so the dentist has always had an important role to play in reinforcing these health messages and detecting such cancers.”
Evelyn Gillan, chief executive of Alcohol Focus Scotland, said anything that helped to combat the health problems caused by excessive alcohol consumption was welcome.
She said: “Alcohol consumption in Scotland is at historically high levels and we have to look at all the ways we can to bring that down.
“We are drinking about double what we did in 1960 – which inevitably causes many potential health problems, and screening would allow us to identify people most at risk.”
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