027 – Normalising oral health in alcohol and other drug recovery services (NORMAD): Empowering clients and service providers

  • Chief Investigator A: Dr Phyllis Lau
  • Chief Investigator B: Dr Hanny Calache
  • Research Collaborators: Patrick Lawrence, Kerry Lo, Meaghan Quinn


The effects of alcohol and drugs on oral health are not well recognised. They affect the bone and soft tissue structures supporting the teeth resulting in premature tooth loss and gum disease which are exacerbated by drug replacement therapies such as methadone. The result is reduced ability to eat, speak and socialise which causes embarrassment and impacts on employment opportunities. Poor oral health is also linked to other health problems such as diabetes, heart disease and stroke.


To normalise oral health care as part of alcohol and other drugs (AOD) recovery at First Step, an addiction treatment centre in St Kilda, by increasing the oral health knowledge of its clients and service providers (addiction medicine GPs, mental health nurses, psychologists, psychiatrists, lawyers, case co-ordinators, peer workers, reception workers and local oral health care providers) and enabling clients to improve their oral health care.


In Australia, alcohol and other drug (AOD) recovery services offer multidisciplinary care to people who are using, abstaining or on the road to recovery. Most AOD service providers and clients have low levels of oral health awareness. Interventions to improve oral health literacy and practice are needed.


This project will use a co-design approach to collect qualitative data from First Step client representatives and service providers to:

  • Understand the oral health needs and experiences of AOD addiction (barriers and facilitators to good oral health, oral hygiene management and access to dental care);
  • Understand the oral health knowledge of AOD professionals assisting clients, and their current practices with regard to assisting with oral hygiene and dental referrals; and
  • Identify the competencies required for AOD professionals to support good oral health in people with AOD addiction and identify any knowledge and skills gaps.

What are the expected outcomes?

It is anticipated this project will:

  • Increase awareness of importance of oral health
  • Support First Step clients in their first steps towards good oral health
  • Provide First Step staff with the right tools to screen and identify oral health risks to facilitate interventions and referrals
  • Increase awareness and use of available oral health services
  • Support First Step clients to maintain good oral health.