Oral Health Linked to Better Drug Treatment Outcomes

Data have shown that a staggering estimated 38 percent of American adults suffered from a substance abuse problem in 2017, and with a looming opioid crisis and many small towns across the nation dealing with drug epidemics, those numbers don’t seem like they’ll shrink anytime soon. But there finally may be some good news from the field of dentistry about treating substance abuse – and it’s all about oral health.

It all began when the University of Utah reached out to two local drug rehabilitation programs called First Step and Odyssey House. The initial goal of this partnership was to allow university students to work on the teeth of the patients coming through the two drug rehabilitation programs, benefiting both the students who needed the experience and the patients who desperately needed the dental care.

Program directors noted that the program was a success but soon began to realize the program was having some unintended benefits, too.

Dr. Allison Lesko is a dentist in Fort Collins, Colorado, who did not participate in the program, but who says its outcomes are nothing short of astounding.

“Program administrators at both treatment facilities began reporting to the university that patients in the dental program were staying in drug rehabilitation twice as long as those not in the dental program,” says Lesko. “They also noticed an 80 percent increase in the number of patients who completed the substance abuse program.”

But that’s not all. According to researchers at the University of Utah, not only did these patients stay longer, but their substance abuse treatments were also more effective.

“Patients in the dental program were two to three times more likely to stay sober following their treatment than those who did not participate,” says Lesko.

Another benefit? The dental program participants were also two to three times more likely to get jobs, and those who were homeless prior to treatment were able to secure housing.

But all this success just from fixing their teeth? Lesko believes it.

“Your teeth aren’t just tools to help you chew. The way they look can make or break your confidence, and when your teeth hurt it can be hard to focus on anything else,” she says. “Furthermore, for someone who is in constant pain to have that pain alleviated can eliminate at least some of the need to self-medicate. So there’s an element there that may help motivate them to stick with the drug treatment.”

Whatever the reason may be, the University of Utah has decided to continue and expand the program so that more patients can get the oral health care they need and hopefully benefit from the same impressive results as those in the initial study group.

Infant Oral Hygiene

Whether you’re a first-time parent or consider yourself an old pro, it’s not uncommon to have questions about your infant’s oral health routine. From when to start to how to get started, the idea of caring for baby’s teeth can be overwhelming to say the least. But there’s no need to panic, mom and dad! You’ve got this. Here’s your primer for infant oral health care.

When to Start

Many people believe that the best time to start caring for their child’s teeth is when the first tooth erupts. This makes a lot of sense, but believe it or not you can actually start caring for baby’s teeth a lot sooner – before he or she even has teeth! By simply swabbing the gums with a gauze-covered finger and fluoride-free toothpaste twice a day, you are setting your baby up for a lifetime of good oral hygiene. Why start before teeth appear? There are two major reasons. First, it cleans the gums, keeping them free of bacteria and germs. Second, it gets your baby used to the feeling of having his or her teeth cleaned, so that when the first tooth does appear, your baby will let you clean it without putting up a fight.

What to Use

Before your child is old enough to spit out toothpaste, you should use fluoride-free paste to keep teeth and gums clean. Make sure you are either supplementing this with fluoridated water or receiving fluoride tablets or drops from your dentist. For infants with no teeth, you can gently swab gums with a piece of gauze or rubber gloves. Once baby’s first tooth appears, an infant toothbrush can be used.

When to See the Dentist

Another common question we hear is when babies should have their first dentist appointment. There is no set age for bringing an infant to the dentist. We recommend you bring him or her in for a first dental exam within six months of the first tooth erupting.

What Happens at Baby’s First Dental Exam?

Most first dental visits will be very brief. Baby’s teeth will be examined and counted, and good oral hygiene practices will be reviewed with the parents. Parents will be directed to schedule their next appointment within six to 12 months of the first, to keep baby comfortable with coming to the dentist.

To schedule an appointment with Dr. Lesko, please call 970-812-0355.