Research Shows Dental Care Aids Recovery For Drug Addicts

May 23, 2019, 6:17 PM | Updated: May 24, 2019, 9:05 am

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah — Most of us know daily brushing and flossing are critical for oral health. Now, a first-of-it’s-kind study by a team of researchers at the University of Utah Dental School shows good oral health care can help the physical and emotional recovery of drug addicts.

“I don’t think I would be where I am today without the smile that I have today,” said Destiny Garcia.

Her smile is the first thing you see when you walk into the Salt Lake County Mayor’s office. She’s the constituent affairs and volunteer coordinator. Two years ago, she was a heroin addict, living on the streets, with terrible teeth.

“Before I went into treatment, I had one missing tooth (and) a couple broken teeth,” said Garcia.  “The only thing I took care of when I was an addict was my habit.”

Destiny Garcia works in the Salt Lake County Mayor's office

Destiny Garcia works in the Salt Lake County Mayor’s office

After 20 years of methamphetamine and heroin addiction, she was desperate to get clean.

“I remember sitting in a park getting high, and crying because I didn’t want to get high. But, I had to because I couldn’t function unless I did.”

She was arrested as part of Operation Rio Grande August 21, 2017. Today, she says she’s thankful for the opportunity that arrest created for her.

“It gave me the opportunity to change my life,” she said.

After 15 days in jail, she completed a nine-month recovery program at Odyssey House.

That’s where she found the healing power of a smile in a study led by Dr. Glen Hanson, vice-dean of the Dental School who is also a professor of pharmacology.

“These were just kind of blow your socks off kinds of results, much better than I had ever expected,” Hanson said of the results they were seeing halfway through the study.

Addicts notoriously neglect their teeth, he said. Hanson wanted to find out if opioid and heroin addicts would be more successful in recovery with comprehensive oral health care.

“Nobody has done this,” he said. “It’s always been emergency care for these people. It hasn’t been comprehensive dental care because of fiscal reasons and other sorts of reasons.”

A workforce study grant enabled him to set up a two-year study with patients Odyssey House and First Step House.  University of Utah dental students fixed the teeth in their lab.

“We are seeing an incredible enhancement of the positive outcomes of treating these patients when they get comprehensive dental care,” said Hanson.

Especially when compared with patients in addiction recovery not getting dental care.

Addicts who got the dental overhaul stayed in treatment about two times longer, were 80% more likely to complete treatment, more likely to stop using their primary drug and more likely to find a place to live if they were homeless. The study was published this week in the Journal of the American Dental Association.

By fixing their teeth, student dentists helped restore the function of the teeth, and self-esteem. It was a valuable experience for the recovering addict and the student dentists.

“Some of them come in with broken teeth they have a lot of pain in the mouth,” said Llely Duarte, a third year dental student who worked on those patients.  “I think it’s amazing, the transformation that we can provide for these patients.”

Many of those patients in addiction recovery had become unemployable while they were using drugs. The dental transformation changed that for many of them.

 “So, they go out and get that job,” said Hanson. “All of a sudden, they’re starting to feel good about themselves, and other people are saying they’re making progress.”

As a recovering addict who seized that opportunity for herself, Garcia believes it’s an important discovery.

“Now my smile matches my life and the way I feel inside,” she said.

KSL 5 TV Live

Top Stories

Local News

Salt Lake City police responding to a shooting at the Downtown West apartment complex. (SLC PD)...
Michael Houck & Lauren Steinbrecher

One person in critical condition after shooting at Salt Lake City apartment complex

Salt Lake City police are investigating a shooting with several people detained Sunday evening. 
1 day ago
Layton police responding to a barricaded suspect in an apartment building. (Courtesy: Phoenix Antho...
Michael Houck

SWAT arrest fugitive who hid in an Layton apartment complex

A wanted fugitive is in police custody after hiding out in a Layton apartment complex Sunday afternoon.
1 day ago
Guest Haus, one of the six businesses, taking part of the recycling pilot program....
Shelby Lofton

Park City introduces reusable food container pilot program

Tossed food take-out containers could be a thing of the past for Park City as it's launching a pilot program that reimagines the doggie bag.
1 day ago
The three car crash, causing roads to be blocked on SR-36. (Courtesy: Colleen Shuman)...
Michael Houck

Three vehicle crash closes portion of SR-36, one person flown to hospital

One person has serious injuries after a crash caused a trailer to flip and strike another vehicle Sunday afternoon.
1 day ago
Wildlife officials responding to the cougar incident....
Michael Houck & Lauren Steinbrecher

Trail runner hurt by cougar in Millcreek Canyon, DWR found and euthanized the animal

A runner was hurt by a cougar after accidentally into it on a trail in Millcreek Canyon.
1 day ago
Paraglider crashed into mountain and was hoisted to the U of U in critical condition....
Brooke Williams

Life Flight responds to critical condition paragliding crash up Olympus Cove Sunday

Paraglider crashed into mountain and was hoisted by Life Flight to the U of U in critical condition.
1 day ago

Sponsored Articles

young woman with stickers on laptop computer...
Les Olson

7 ways print marketing materials can boost your business

Custom print marketing materials are a great way to leave an impression on clients or customers. Read for a few ideas to spread the word about your product or company.
young woman throwing clothes to organize a walk in closet...
Lighting Design

How to organize your walk-in closet | 7 easy tips to streamline your storage today

Read our tips to learn how to organize your walk-in closet for more storage space. These seven easy tips can help you get the most out of your space.
Types of Computer Malware and Examples...
PC Laptops

5 Nasty Types of Computer Malware and Examples | Everything You Need to Know to Keep Your Computer and Family Safe

Here are the different types of computer malware and examples that could potentially infect your computer.
tips how to quit smoking...

7 Tips How to Quit Smoking | Quitting Smoking Might be One of the Hardest Things You Ever Do but Here’s Where You Can Start

Quitting smoking cigarettes can be incredibly difficult. Here are 7 tips how to quit smoking to help you on your quitting journey.
Photo: Storyblocks...
Blue Stakes of Utah 811

Blue Stakes of Utah 811: 5 Reasons To Call 811 Before You Dig When Working in Your Yard

Call before you dig. Even at home, you could end up with serious injuries or broken utilities just because you didn't call Blue Stakes of Utah 811.
Days of...
Days of '47 Rodeo

TRIVIA: How well do you know your rodeo? Take this quiz before you go to the Days of ’47!

The Utah Days of ’47 Rodeo presented by Zions Bank is a one-of-a-kind Gold Medal Rodeo being held July 20-23, 25 at 7:30 PM. The Days of ’47 Rodeo How well do you know your rodeo trivia? Take the quiz to test your know-all before heading out to the Days of ’47 Rodeo at the […]
Research Shows Dental Care Aids Recovery For Drug Addicts