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Libby Mitchell

Phone: 801-587-0945

Jan 30, 2018 9:13 AM

SALT LAKE CITY – Researchers at The University of Utah School of Dentistry have preliminary results from a first-of-its-kind pilot study that integrates comprehensive oral health care with treatment for substance use disorder. These researchers believe that this novel approach to treatment could curb the national opioid epidemic and fundamentally reshape the way we think about addiction.

With funding from the Health Resources and Services Administration (an agency of the Department of Health and Human Services), the school has partnered with First Step House and Odyssey House, two Salt Lake City-based substance abuse treatment programs, to provide oral health care to patients, including those with the most severe symptoms of substance use disorder.

Prior to treatment, the patients who received oral health care had worse findings for drug abstinence, employment, and homelessness than the control group. After discharge, patients who received integrated care had better outcomes in these three areas than the control group who received substance abuse treatment alone. 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

Those behind the program believe these results suggest that combining oral health care and substance abuse treatment could reduce the likelihood of recidivism in patients. “Oral health is pivotal to quality of life, especially in relation to social interactions, eating, communication, feeling good, self-image, and cosmetics,” said Dr. Glen Hanson. “This isn’t just about filling cavities. We’re helping these people take care of themselves and re-integrate into society.”

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