Oral Healthcare Could Improve Substance Abuse Disorder Treatment

Dentistry Today


The University of Utah School of Dentistry has preliminary results from a first of its kind pilot study integrating comprehensive oral healthcare with treatment for substance abuse disorder. The researchers believe this approach could curb the national opioid epidemic and fundamentally reshape the way we think about addiction.

With funding from the Health Resources and Services Administration, the school has partnered with First Step House and Odyssey House, two substance abuse treatment programs based in Salt Lake City, to provide oral healthcare to patients, including those with the most severe symptoms of substance abuse disorder.

Before treatment, the patients who received oral healthcare had worse findings for drug abstinence, employment, and homelessness than the control group. After discharge, the patients who received integrated care had better outcomes in these areas than the control group, which only received substance abuse treatment.

The patients who received comprehensive oral healthcare were:

  • 50% more likely to complete treatment and not drop out
  • 55% less likely to be homeless after discharge
  • 200% more likely to abstain from drugs after discharge
  • 300% more likely to find employment at the time of discharge
  • Spending 75% more time in treatment than the control group

The researchers believe these results suggest that combining oral healthcare and substance abuse treatment could reduce the likelihood of recidivism in patients.

“Oral health is pivotal to quality of life, especially in relation to social interactions, eating, communication, feeling good, self-image, and cosmetics,” said Glen Hanson, DDS, PhD. “This isn’t just about filling cavities. We’re helping these people take care of themselves and re-integrate into society.”

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