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Substance-use screening and interventions in dental practices: survey of practice-based research network dentists regarding current practices, policies and barriers

Jennifer McNeely, Shana Wright, Abigail G Matthews, John Rotrosen, Donna Shelley, Matthew P Buchholz, Frederick A Curro
Journal of the American Dental Association 2013, 144 (6): 627-38
23729460

BACKGROUND: Dental visits represent an opportunity to identify and assist patients with unhealthy substance use, but little is known about how dentists are addressing patients' use of tobacco, alcohol and illicit drugs. The authors surveyed dentists to learn about the role their practices might play in providing substance-use screening and interventions.

METHODS: The authors distributed a 41-item Web-based survey to all 210 dentists active in the Practitioners Engaged in Applied Research and Learning Network, a practice-based research network. The questionnaire assessed dental practices' policies and current practices, attitudes and perceived barriers to providing services for tobacco, alcohol and illicit drug use.

RESULTS: One hundred forty-three dentists completed the survey (68 percent response rate). Although screening was common, fewer dentists reported that they were providing follow-up counseling or referrals for substance use. Insufficient knowledge or training was the most frequently cited barrier to intervention. Many dentists reported they would offer assistance for use of tobacco (67 percent) or alcohol or illicit drugs (52 percent) if reimbursed; respondents who treated publicly insured patients were more likely to reply that they would offer this assistance.

CONCLUSIONS: Dentists recognize the importance of screening for substance use, but they lack the clinical training and practice-based systems focused on substance use that could facilitate intervention. Practical Implications. The results of this study indicate that dentists may be willing to address substance use among patients, including use of alcohol and illicit drugs in addition to tobacco, if barriers are reduced through changes in reimbursement, education and systems-level support.

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