A University of Utah School of Dentistry program teaching students how to care for the underserved yielded more than fixed teeth.
A study found that 300 clients who got comprehensive dental care stayed in rehab longer and got jobs and homes. The improvement over the 1,000 clients who didn't get dental care was dramatic.
"I was a drug addict, homeless, living on the street," Destiny Garcia said. "I used to shoplift on a daily basis to support my habit."
Methamphetamine and heroin left Garcia's teeth in bad shape. But help was coming in the form of dentistry students.
The students were part of a program devised by the school's Vice Dean Dr. Glen Hanson. He had long suspected oral health would improve drug rehab, and the program proved it.
"They noticed that those who were getting comprehensive dental care as part of their treatment, they stayed in treatment for substance abuse disorder two to three times longer," Hanson said.
Study participants stayed in rehab 300 days, compared to 100 days for those who didn't get care. They were two to three times more likely to get a job and stay off drugs. And Hanson says homelessness almost disappeared.
"Good things are going to happen, both in terms of getting a job, presenting yourself," he said. "When you look in the mirror, you have a better feeling of who you are."
The study's authors don't say why the dental program works, but Garcia knows.
"When you're in a drug treatment program, you're working on your insides so much," she said. "And if you don't work on those outsides to match the way you feel on the inside, people are still going to judge you the same."
She says her new teeth mean new possibilities and allow her to kiss her baby and her family without hiding her mouth.
The original grant for the dentistry program ran out. But Hanson worked to get the Legislature to approve a new program for the same client base, and it's tied to Medicaid.
He says not only is this life-changing for clients, it will save the state and federal government money in rehab relapse, prison costs and health care costs.
TOPIC: DENTAL CARE IMPROVES DRUG REHAB
REPORT: MB #4616
BACKGROUND: Substance abuse is something that many people across the U.S. struggle with. . According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 19.7 million American adults battled with substance use disorder in 2017. Drug abuse can cause harm to not only one's self, but society as well. Addiction and drug abuse cost America more than $740 billion annually in lost workplace productivity, healthcare expenses, and crime-related costs. Patients who suffer from addiction also struggle with relapses keeping them in and out of rehab, with the relapse rate being estimated between 40 and 60 percent. Relapsing makes it hard for patients trying to recover to get jobs or live steady lives. (Source: https://americanaddictioncenters.org/rehab-guide/addiction-statistics)
DRUG ABUSE AFFECTS TEETH: Many drugs do damage to our teeth and gums. People who are struggling with substance abuse may also neglect oral hygiene. Things like dry mouth, acid reflux, grinding teeth, loss of blood flow to roots of gum, and ulcers or sores, are just some of the ways that addictive drugs can potentially harm the teeth and mouth. Drugs like cocaine, meth, amphetamines, alcohol, opioids marijuana, tobacco, and prescription drugs mixed with poor oral hygiene can all contribute to problems in the mouth. (Source: https://americanaddictioncenters.org/health-complications-addiction/dental-health)
NEW RESEARCH: Glen Hanson, DDS, PhD, Vice Dean, School of Dentistry at the University of Utah explains how dental care can help patients who suffer from drug abuse stay in and finish rehab with a training grant called FLOSS. "They noticed that those who were getting comprehensive dental care as part of their treatment, they stayed in treatment for substance abuse disorder two to three times longer. This program is beneficial for patients in the long run. Good things are going to happen, both in terms of getting a job, presenting yourself. When you look in the mirror, you have a better feeling of who you are," said Dr. Hanson. The original grant for FLOSS has run out, but Dr. Hanson has worked with legislature to approve a new program that is now tied to Medicaid. (Source: Glen Hanson, DDS, PhD)