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Smile Restorations Create Better Outcomes for Substance Abuse Patients

Researchers at the University of Utah School of Dentistry studied the effect of oral care on substance use disorder. The results showed that participants who had their significant oral health problem addressed stayed in treatment around twice as long, and were 80% more likely to complete their substance abuse program.

"There is a powerful synergism between oral health care and substance use disorder"

The results make sense to most dental professionals. The way a smile looks affects quality of life in significant ways. First impressions on other people including potential significant others, employers, as well as self esteem are greatly affected. Poor oral health also contributes to poor nutrition, oral infections, and pain. 

“There is a powerful synergism between oral health care and substance use disorder,” said Glen Hanson, D.D.S., Ph.D., first author on the paper and professor of Pharmacology and Toxicology and School of Dentistry at U of U Health. “Those who received comprehensive dental care had a better quality of life as measured by substantial improvements in employment and drug abstinence as well as a dramatic decrease in homelessness.”

To conduct their research, the research team collaborated with two substance use clinics in Salt Lake City to develop a program called FLOSS (Facilitating a Lifetime of Oral Health Sustainability for Substance Use Disorder Patients and Families).The study didn’t examine specific reasons for the different positive responses observed for the FLOSS participants compared to the controls, but statistical analysis shows that the improvements in substance abuse treatment outcomes were likely associated with the comprehensive dental care and not to other variables such as age, gender, type of drug abused, or treatment facility.

From 2015 to 2017, the substance use treatment centers recruited patients for the study. Patients in the FLOSS program received care at the U of U Health School of Dentistry for a wide range of treatments from root canals to extractions, or restorations to dentures. 

After comprehensive dental care, the participants in FLOSS, whether they self-selected or were randomly selected, were more likely to continue and complete their substance use treatment program. The research team believes that providing complete oral care as part of treating the whole patient, is critical to resurrecting self-esteem and restoring important body functions as a critical first step to recovery from drug abuse.

“The experience is life changing not only for the patients but also dental providers such as dental students who now know how their work can dramatically alter their patients’ lives,” Hanson said. “I think if we do the same thing for patients experiencing other chronic health problems, like diabetes, we could see similar positive results for treatment outcomes.”

The results of the study are available online May 20 in the Journal of the American Dental Association.

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