By Kama McKinney, Executive Director
Chrysalis House, Inc.
Chrysalis House is so grateful to the Lexington Medical Society Foundation for generously supporting our patient dental care program. Substance use disorders (SUD) contribute to direct consequences for oral health and can exacerbate oral problems indirectly through its adverse effects on an individual’s behavior, appearance, and lifestyle. The association between drug abuse and insufficient oral health is also complicated by disparities in healthcare access, socioeconomic status, and limited education. Poor dental health can be especially problematic for pregnant women, who may be at higher risk of having pre-term, low birthweight babies.
Dental care for patients receiving SUD treatment can improve their oral health, help them to recover from SUD and reconstruct a “non-addict” identity. Despite the seriousness of oral health problems among those with a SUD and positive effects of dental care on recovery, few programs have been implemented to improve access to dental care among those diagnosed with SUD because of the high cost of dental services and low rates of Medicaid dental coverage.
Women at Chrysalis House have reported that their poor dental health adds to the stigma of being a “drug addict.” In addition to how others see them, they also report that having missing teeth or blackened-rotting teeth affects their self-confidence and contributes to a diminished sense of well-being. Studies have shown that the better individuals pursuing recovery feel about themselves, the less vulnerable they are to relapse.
Chrysalis House measured self-reported satisfaction with physical appearance, self-esteem, and overall health and wellness following completion of patient dental treatment plans using pre- and post-services surveys. Post survey results overwhelmingly reflected a more positive attitude toward self in all areas over the pre survey results. Comments from the patients included:
“I haven’t felt pretty in a long time. I never smiled and hated talking to people because I felt like they were always looking at my mouth. I think it affected me in ways that I didn’t even realize until after I got dentures.”
“I can’t stop smiling.”
“I think getting the dentures is going to help me get a better job and be more successful because I have a better attitude about myself.”
“I am not embarrassed to meet new people now.”
“I can’t believe this is me. Having teeth that are not rotten and falling out for the first time since I can’t remember when, is the best thing that has happened to me in a long, long time.”