Patients with substance addiction (to alcohol, marijuana, amphetamines, and opioides) usually experience a rapid degradation of their oral health, which may be as fast as one year in cases of opioides consumption. Causes may range from bad hygiene (commonly associated with substance addiction behaviors), to more complex and general causes (suppressed immunity, unhealthy eating habits, depression, lack of motivation, financial situation of the patient, etc.). Irrespective of their classification, these substances (illegal drugs, prescribed medicines or legal drugs) seam to trigger the same disastrous effects on patient’s oral health.
How can your dentist help?
The treatment for substance addiction is complex and takes time, including behavioral therapy, counseling and medication, and involves, besides dealing with drug abuse, addressing multiple aspects of patient’s needs, including dental issues. A dentist can follow dental treatment protocol to solve oral problems, but he can also have a part in diagnostic procedures.
Recognizing the symptoms is an essential step in the treatment of substance dependences, which can imply changes in the structure and functions of the brain, occurring in the form of mental health degradation. Not all symptoms of drug consumption are visible during a regular check-up at the dentist’s, yet, in the oral cavity only, there are more than enough sign to indicate substance abuse, and some of these can lead to oral cancer: xerostomia, hyperkeratosis, bruxism, severe erosions and multiple tooth decay, carcinoma, candidiasis, gum infections and necrosis, lesions, ulcerations, etc.
Recovery and dental treatment
It is highly important to keep the dentist posted with the details of the recovery treatment. Certain substances must be avoided in order not to obstruct recovery; therefore the dentist will consider creating a personalized strategy of pain management.
Depending on the substance of addiction, the use of certain substances commonly used during dental treatment becomes strictly forbidden.
The dentist also takes the responsibility of optimizing anesthesia, as this may become an issue in patients with addictions or with a history of addiction, as compared to other patients.