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Addressing smoking in the dental clinic

04 June 2018

With oral cancer one of the leading causes of disease burden in Victoria, World No Tobacco Day on 31 May is an opportunity for oral health professionals to reflect on how they approach the issue of smoking with their patients.

Smoking significantly increases the risk of developing oral cancer and periodontal disease, and the latest statistics show that more than 16 new cases of oral cancer are diagnosed in Victoria every week.

With smoking the leading cause of preventable deaths and diseases in Australia, it is important that dental professionals reassess their approach to addressing their patients’ smoking.

Dental Health Services Victoria has been co-designing a program with oral health professionals that will assist them in having short conversations with their patients.

Working in partnership with Quit Victoria, The Australian Dental Association Vic Branch and funded by The Department of Health and Human Services, this program, Smokefree Smiles recognises that a significant number of oral health professionals are not having discussions with their patients regarding their smoking.

Oral health professionals should not be reluctant to have discussions about their patient’s smoking as patients actually expect us to talk about smoking with them. Statistics, however, tell us that only 33-66 per cent of oral health professionals regularly discuss smoking with their patients.

The power of addressing the elephant in the room can have wide-reaching impacts.

Oral health professionals underestimate the effect they can have on their dental patients when it comes to quitting. In fact, a surprising 20 per cent of unmotivated patients will try to quit after even a short conversation.

We thrive on instant results, and quitting smoking does not happen that easily.

With ever increasing clinical and time pressures, Smokefree Smiles promotes a quick 3-step framework of Ask, Advise and Help, and highlights a number of simple things oral health professionals can do to make a positive impact.

  • Don’t ask patients about their smoking if you don’t follow through with an offer of help. This will actually reduce the likelihood of them quitting.
  • Fill the gaps in their knowledge, and show them how to look for signs of smoking damage in their mouths. Smoking significantly increases the risk of developing oral cancer and periodontal disease. Do your patients know what this looks like?
  • Guide them to the experts. Patients don’t need to quit on their own – specialist counsellors from Quitline help people decide if, when, and how to quit. Referrals made to Quitline result in higher quitting rates than asking patients to call the Quitline themselves.

We all know that when it comes to achieving significant behaviour changes, telling someone what they should do, rarely works. By talking about smoking with patients, oral health professionals can assist their patients maximise their oral health outcomes.

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