For those who struggle with substance use disorder, oral health often suffers greatly and thereby seriously damages interpersonal skills, while causing poor nutrition, increased oral and general infections and debilitating oral pain.

A team of researchers at the University of Utah School of Dentistry, USA explored the effect of comprehensive oral care for a more holistic approach to substance use disorder treatment. Their work shows for the first time that participants who had their major oral health problems addressed by a dental professional stayed in treatment approximately two times longer and had a more than 80% increased chance of completing their substance abuse treatment programme. The results of the study are available online in the Journal of the American Dental Association.

Dr Glen Hanson, Professor of Pharmacology and Toxicology and the School of Dentistry at the University and first author on the paper says: “There is a powerful synergism between oral health care and substance use disorder. 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”.

While the study did not examine specific reasons for the different positive responses observed for the participants compared to the controls, a statistical analysis supports the idea that the improvements in substance abuse treatment outcomes were associated with comprehensive dental care and not other variables such as gender, type of drug abused, treatment facility, or age.