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Research tells us that dentists are no more—or less—likely to develop substance use disorders (alcohol or drug abuse or dependence) than the general population. In other words, 10–15 percent of dentists will have a drug and/or alcohol problem sometime in their lives.

Substance use disorders are part of the human condition, and touch as many as one in four American families.

What IS different for dentists and other health professionals than for the general population is the public trust that goes with the privilege to practice, and the responsibility to obey the state dental practice acts and controlled substance regulations.

An untreated substance use disorder in a dentist can not only threaten the dentist’s life and family stability, but place patients, and the practice itself, in jeopardy.

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What is Moderate Drinking

What would you say if someone asked you to define 'moderate drinking'? The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) says it's:

  • Up to 2 drinks/day (a 'drink' being 12 oz of beer, 5 oz. wine, 1.5 oz. 80-proof distilled spirits) for MEN under 65
  • Up to 1 drink/day for WOMEN and MEN OVER 65
  • For some people—teens, pregnant women, and people with a history of addiction or alcoholism, there is no safe level of alcohol consumption.

In our national Dentist Well-Being Survey, we asked dentists these 4 questions from the CAGE screening tool.

  • Have you ever felt that you should cut down on your drinking?
  • Have people annoyed you by criticizing your drinking?
  • Have you ever felt bad or guilty about your drinking?
  • Have you ever had a drink first thing in the morning (eye-opener) to steady your nerves or to get rid of a hangover?

How would you know if you're a 'binge drinker'? Binge drinking is defined as the consumption of five or more alcoholic drinks (as defined above) on at least one occasion in the last month (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention).

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Assistance Services for Dentists

Services are available in most states for dentists at risk of or experiencing impairment. Contact information is available in the 2009 Well-Being Directory online, or by calling 312-440-2622, or the member toll-free number, ext. 2622, or by e-mail to All inquiries are confidential.

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Resources for State Dentist Well-Being Programs

A Listserv for well-being committee chairs and the directors of programs that serve dentists has just launched. For information, e-mail

Dentist Assistance Program Report

For the 2006 survey, questionnaires were distributed to both the dental societies and well-being staff or volunteers.

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IDAA (International Doctors in Alcoholics Anonymous)

Did you know there's an Alcoholics Anonymous group just for doctors? It's called International Doctors in AA, or IDAA. Dentists have been playing leadership roles in organizing the annual meetings, and appreciate this fellowship opportunity. More information is at

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Voices of Experience

Read dentists' stories in these articles from the Michigan Dental Association Journal. All of these articles are available in Adobe PDF format and will open in a separate browser window.

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The University of Utah School on Alcoholism and Other Drug Dependencies

The University of Utah sponsors a weeklong summer training school on alcoholism. It is the only school of its kind to have profession-specific sections—and there is a Dental Section. For more information see the university's Web site.

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2011–2012 Webinars

National Issues Conference Call: Examining Prescription Drug Abuse and the Role of the Dental Professional
Speaker: Bob Burns, Drs. Bill Kane and Brett Kessler
Date: February 22, 2012

Webinar: Opioid Analgesia in your Dental Practice: Assessing Risks and Effective Pain Management
Speaker: Drs. Pat Sammon and John Lindroth, University of Kentucky Dental School
Date: May 17, 2012; 12:00 PM CDT

Webinar: Chronic Opioid Therapy in Dentistry
Speaker: Dr. Jeffrey Crandall
June 27, 2012, 6:00 PM CDT

Annual Session Course: Management of Pain in the Chemically Dependent Patient
Speaker: Dr. Bill Kane
Location & Date: ADA Annual Session, October 18, 2012, 2:00-4:00 PM

2013 Webinars and ADA Conference on Dentist Health and Well-Being/Opioid Track

Opioid Prescribing – Spokane County Dentists (pdf)
Speaker: Amy Riffe, MA, MPH
Date: January 23, 2013

A Statewide Evaluation of Opioid Prescribing Patterns with an Emphasis on Drug Diversion and Substance Abuse (pdf)
Speaker: Michael O’Neil, PharmD
Date: February 20, 2013

Opioids and Non-Opioids Prescription for Dental Care in Emergency Departments in the United States (pdf)
Speaker: Christopher Okunseri, BDS, MSc., MLS, DDPHRCSE., FFDRCSi
Date: April 10, 2013

Strategies in the Dental Office for Safer Management of Patients at Risk for Opioid-Seeking Behavior (pdf/4Mb)
Speaker: Theresa E. Madden, DDS, MS, PhD, FACD
Date: June 19, 2013

Additional Opioid Prescribing Resources

The Journal of the American Dental Association

For more information on the grant or the webinars, contact Alison Siwek by calling 312-440-2622 or via email at

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ADA Resources

ADA Current Policies

This downloadable document contains major policies adopted by the American Dental Association House of Delegates from 1954 through 2005 that are still in effect in 2006, except for policies that appear in the Association’s Constitution and Bylaws and Principles of Ethics and Code of Professional Conduct.

Under the heading Dentist Health and Well-Being you will find:

    • Dentist Health and Wellness
    • Substance Abuse Among Dentists
    • Substance Use Among Dental Students
    • Guiding Principles for Dentist Well-Being Activities at the State Level.

Under Substance Use Disorders you will find:

    • Use of Opioids in the Treatment of Dental Pain
    • Alcoholism and Other Substance Use Disorders
    • Provision of Dental Treatment for Patients with Substance Use Disorders
    • Alcohol and Substance Use by Pregnant and Postpartum Patients
    • Guidelines Related to Alcohol, Nicotine, and/or Drug Use by Child or Adolescent Patients

ADA Principles of Ethics and Code of Professional Conduct

It is unethical to practice dentistry while under the influence of substances that impair the ability to practice. Dentists who have firsthand knowledge of a colleague’s impairment are also under an ethical obligation—and in some cases, a legal obligation—to report the colleague to a dentist assistance program or the state licensing board. Get more information.

Related links

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Additional Information

Alcoholism/Substance Abuse 

Drug-Free Workplace

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