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A helping hand with health issues

State dental associations offer variety of wellness resources

A helping hand with health issues
Dr. Kessler

Editor's note: This is the third in a series of articles exploring wellness issues.

The goal is to be healthy, and there are a number of resources available for dentists who are interested in achieving it.

Many state dental associations have wellness committees dedicated to finding dentists the help and treatment they need. The goal is to help dentists help themselves so they can return to a healthy and productive life and avoid putting their careers in jeopardy.

"Dentists are responsible for dentists," said Dr. Wayne McElhiney, chair of the Concerned Dental Professionals Committee of the Tennessee Dental Association. "Addiction is a disease that is not curable but treatable. Seeking treatment can save someone's life and protects the public."

Different states take different approaches and have different requirements but all have the same goal of wanting to keep dentists dealing with addictive disorders healthy and practicing.

"If you're trying to treat an addiction on your own, there's about a 3 percent chance that you'll be successful, but when you go through a diversion program, the success rate is upwards of 85 percent," said Dr. Brett Kessler, co-chair of Concerned Colorado Dentists, a subcommittee of the Colorado Dental Association.

In Colorado, concerned colleagues, family members or friends can contact Concerned Colorado Dentists to report a dentist who needs help. The group sets up an intervention in an attempt to get the dentist into a treatment program, without involving the state board of dentistry, Dr. Kessler said. If a dentist believes that patients are at risk because of a dentist who needs help for addiction or other issues, the dentist may have additional reporting obligations.

Colorado's Board of Dental Examiners provides its own help through the Dentist Peer Health Assistance Program, which is available to all licensed Colorado dentists who have physical, emotional, psychological or substance abuse problems, according to its website. There is no fee to be evaluated, assessed and referred or monitored for treatment, but fees to enroll in treatment, therapy or drug services are the responsibility of the dentist.

The Colorado Board of Dental Examiners' program is confidential and anonymous unless the dentist is referred by the board; there has been a violation of the Dental Practice Act related to substance abuse or addiction; or the dentist does not comply with the Dentist Rehabilitation Contract, which is an agreement between the dentist and the peer assistance program that outlines what the dentist needs to do to ensure they're wellness and that they're safe to practice, said Rebecca Heck, director of the Dental Peer Health Assistance Diversion Program.

A primary goal for the state wellness committees is to educate.

"Very few dentists and dental students know anything about the disease of addiction," said Dr. Bob Herzog, a dentist, certified interventionist and chair of the New York State Dental Association’s Committee on Chemical Dependency.

Dr. Herzog said the committee's goal is to also help dentists with other addictions, such as gambling. New York's program started about 30 years ago when a group of NYSDA members, most of them recovering alcoholics, met to form a peer assistance committee that was a confidential, nonpunitive alternative to help impaired dentists get into treatment.

They went to the governing board at the time, which gave unquestioning support, donating money and toll-free phone lines and "since that day they've been tremendous in their backing for us," Dr. Herzog said.

"Getting early interventions done before dentists are involved in a Board of Dentistry action is important. Trying to do it in a nonpunitive way and helping dentists keep their license and get well again is the goal."

The Tennessee Department of Health has a volunteer program that is completely confidential as long as the client cooperates with the Concerned Dental Professional Committee's suggestions, said Dr. McElhiney.

"Our main goal is to identify, investigate, intervene and incorporate with an assessment program and guide people into treatment programs," Dr. McElhiney said.

Once the dentist completes the treatment program, they must sign an agreement with the committee agreeing to drug screenings, random observations, and attend Alcoholic Anonymous meetings each week. If the dentist fails to meet the terms of the contract, they may be reported to the Tennessee Board of Dentistry, Dr. McElhiney said.

In order to protect the public and the individual, "we have to get these individuals into a program of recovery," Dr. McElhiney said.

To find out more about the ADA’s Health and Wellness program or to receive contact information for state dental association wellness programs, call Alison Siwek toll-free, Ext. 2622, or e-mail siweka@ada.org.