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Heavy drinking can lead to tooth decay and erosion of the enamel lining, which puts dentists in the "unique" position of being able to check for signs of a problem, researchers from the University of Cardiff insist.
In a report published in the Royal College of Surgeons' Dental Journal, experts suggested that dentists rather than doctors should be responsible for such screening because many patients attend routine annual check-ups, allowing dental health professionals to spot the early signs of alcohol abuse and related health problems.
A pre-consultation questionnaire filled out by patients could flat up potential problems and those thought to be at risk of alcohol-related health issues could be offered counselling sessions. In severe cases, dentists could be free to alert the patient's GP.
Researchers wrote: "After screening, the individuals identified as misusing alcohol could then be offered treatment, including brief motivational advice sessions delivered by hygienists or dental nurses.
"Liaison with the patients' medical practitioner could also result in referral for specialist care should the patient demonstrate alcohol dependence or depression, for example."
Professor Jonathan Shepherd, lead author of the paper, added: "Excessive alcohol consumption can lead to cancer of the mouth, larynx and oesophagus and dentists may be the first to notice these conditions.
"We need to introduce an alcohol screening tool that reliably detect hazardous and harmful drinking alongside effective treatment."
What do you think? Should dentists screen patients for signs of alcohol abuse? Leave your comments below...