“How much alcohol do you drink on average per week?,” asks the dentist. The dentist?! According to researchers, routine appointments give dentists a unique opportunity to identify alcohol abuse, which seems to be a major risk factor for dental and other health problems, such as oral cancer.
“Excessive drinking could lead to cancer of the mouth, larynx and oesophagus and dentists might be the first to notice these conditions,” said Shepherd, professor of oral and maxillofacial surgery at Cardiff University.
A previous study published in December 2011 estimated that, in 2010, about 37% of oral and pharyngeal cancers in men and 17% in women in the UK were linked to alcohol. The regular check-up to the dentist seems to be a great opportunity to spot these cancers at a very early stage, so there can be a quicker intervention.
“The real issue here is not so much dental disease, important though that is, but the fact that the dental team and dentists have a duty of care, a wider duty of care, for maintaining overall health,” said Shepherd. “Of course, we go to the dentist for prevention purposes very often, for check-ups, and we’re used to getting advice about diet and smoking from the dentist, so this is a very natural extension.
Patients who were identified as heavy drinkers by screening could be offered counseling sessions, and in serious cases dentists could alert their general practitioner and spark a referral for additional treatment, the experts from the University of Cardiff said.
Parkin, D. (2011). 3. Cancers attributable to consumption of alcohol in the UK in 2010 British Journal of Cancer, 105 DOI: 10.1038/bjc.2011.476
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