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Doctor urges treatment centers combine drug abuse therapy with dental care

File photo: In the first study of its kind, the University of Utah School of Dentistry provided dental care to 286 people undergoing substance abuse treatment at First Step and Odyssey House from 2015-2018. Researchers saw significant outcomes, with those who received the dental care staying in treatment two times longer and an 80 percent increase in them completing their programs, as compared with those who did not receive the dental care.

SALT LAKE CITY — A new study out of the University of Utah argues that drug therapy is more successful when it goes hand in hand with treatments from a dentist.

Doctor Glen Hanson, Vice Dean in the School of Dentistry and author of the study, said about 40 percent of the people in state-funded treatment centers are suffering from serous oral health problems. There is no official program to fix the problems until they are emergencies. At that point Hanson said usually dentists will just pull the tooth instead of trying to save it.

“They can’t speak. These people have poor self image,” Hanson said.

So he found grant funding and set up a relationship with the First Step and Odyssey houses in Salt Lake City, offering their tennants free treatment for everything from gum disease to crowns.

“It made a dramatic difference,” Hanson said. “It improved their quality of life and as a result they became much more receptive to the {drug abuse} treatment.”

In a press release the University of Utah said patients who received comprehensive oral health care 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 vs. control group

“Really exciting to watch them leave the dental school,” Hanson said. “They’ll walk in front of the mirror and stop. They’ll look in the mirror and give this great big smile.”

Hanson said he’s already working with the legislature to create a bill that would provide funding and support for more treatments like this one.

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