Dental Clinician/Patient Communication Regarding Illegal Drug Use

Patients may not admit they have a drug dependency. The dental clinician must be competent at recognizing signs, especially if a patient is “under the influence.”

When abuse is suspected, management depends on whether or not the patient is high, shows signs of abuse or whether they are seeking help with a drug problem. As with alcohol, protocols for dealing with patients should be established in the office.

Patients with signs of oral-related pathology should be educated about the conditions. Proper documentation of clinical findings and suspected lifestyle should be included in the patient’s chart.

If a drug dependent patient presents for dental treatment and chooses to discuss their current dependency, provide a safe, accepting environment for discussion. Having support materials on hand from a resource such as Narcotics Anonymous (NA) can provide a link to that support system.18 Further communication suggestions are available at Partnership for Drug-Free Kids and the National Institutes of Health’s National Institute on Drug Abuse.