Oral Care And Substance Abuse Recovery

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The Surprising Link Between Comprehensive Oral Care And Substance Abuse Recovery

Patients recovering from substance use disorder have a better chance at drug abstinence, recovery, and improved quality of life, including professional and personal life if they take care of their oral health. The latest study points to a link between proper oral care and emotional and physical emotional recovery of a patient receiving treatment for substance use disorder.

It’s no secret that a bright, healthy smile helps maintain a happy, successful life. Our smile is the first thing people tend to notice whether we are conversing with strangers or clients. However, those working through substance abuse issues often tend to neglect self-care, specifically oral healthcare. Alongside hampering their interpersonal skills, improper oral healthcare can cause multiple problems such as inadequate nutrition, increased susceptibility to general and oral infections, and heightened oral sensitivity and pain.

In place of traditional substance abuse treatment practices, a team of researchers at the University of Utah’s School of Dentistry decided to explore a more holistic approach to help with substance abuse recovery. They found that most of the participants in the substance abuse treatment programs were more likely to continue with their treatment regimens if they were also getting major oral treatments. According to the findings, the participants stayed on the course twice as long and showed an upwards of 80 percent increase in completion of their substance abuse recovery program while receiving some dental treatment.

The results of the study, compiled by Dr. Glen Hanson, professor of Pharmacology and Toxicology and School of Dentistry at University of Utah Health, are available in the Journal of the American Dental Association. “There is a powerful synergism between oral health care and substance abuse recovery,” said Dr. Hanson, adding that, “Patients who received comprehensive oral care had a better quality of life as measured by significant improvements in employment and drug abstinence as well as a dramatic decrease in homelessness,” reported Science Daily.

The participants of the study were divided into two comparative groups—a control group and a FLOSS program group. Based on the statistical analysis conducted on the recorded observations, the researchers inferred that irrespective of the participants’ gender, the drug of choice, age, and treatment facility, they showed remarkable improvement in their substance abuse recovery programs when also going through dental treatment. However, the study did not point out any specific reasons for the observed positive outcomes.

The ‘Facilitating a Lifetime of Oral Health Sustainability for Substance Use Disorder Patients and Families’ or FLOSS program was developed by a collaboration between Glen Hanson (and team) and two Salt Lake City substance abuse clinics (Odyssey House and First Step House). The main aim of the FLOSS project was to equip the dentists of the new generation to administer oral care to underserved communities. However, as researchers discovered later, FLOSS did much more than improve the participant’s oral health.

The retrospective study, conducted by Hanson and his team, recruited patients for their study between 2015 and 2017 from two substance abuse clinics. The First Step House allowed 1200 males (158 in dental and 862 in control) to self-select their dental care while the Odyssey House randomly assigned 103 females (58 in dental and 45 in control) and 167 males (70 in dental and 97 in control) dental treatments after identifying all the major oral health problems in the group.

All the FLOSS program participants received dental treatments such as tooth extractions, root canals, and dentures at the University of Utah’s School of Dentistry. The observations were later analyzed to determine whether the FLOSS program helped any patient undergoing substance abuse treatment as well.

Irrespective of whether the FLOSS participants were self-selected or randomly selected to opt for comprehensive dental care, the probability of them continuing and completing their substance abuse recovery program increased considerably. Receiving holistic treatment, including complete dental care, significantly helps in boosting the morale, self-esteem, and regular bodily functions of the patient. Hanson and his team emphasized how dental care is the first step in climbing the long ladder of drug abuse recovery.

“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,” said Dr. Hanson. “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,” reported Science Daily.

The fascinating new study received the support of the Health Resources and Services Administration and the National Institutes of Health National Institute on Drug Abuse and Lasting Recovery in San Diego  Alongside Hanson, Llely Duarte, Lilliam Pinzon, Bryan Trump, Sri Koduri, Carter Bruett, Ken Smith, and Huong Weeks at the University of Utah, Shawn McMillen at First Step House, and Kali Mower at Odyssey House also participated in carrying out the study.

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