STUDENTS from Dundee University have collaborated with NHS Fife and the Scottish Drugs Forum to create a series of educational comics about drugs and the link to oral health.
Students and researchers from the Scottish Centre for Comics Studies and School of Dentistry came together with the Scottish Drugs Forum (SDF) for the Oral Health Improvement for People with Experience of Drugs (OHIPED) project.
The comics form part of a series of resources that will be used to deliver oral health mentor training to addiction workers while also aiming to improve access to services.
Drug use affects oral health through direct physical routes but the lifestyle that often accompanies drug use – high-sugar diets, malnutrition, poor oral hygiene, and lack of regular dental care – can also impact oral health.
Research shows an increase in decayed and extracted teeth among people with substance use problems, alongside increased embarrassment and stress regarding their appearance leading to poor self-esteem.
They recounted poor experiences of accessing dental services and preventive dental care, with the stigma of past drug use increased significantly by poor oral health.
The comics also mentions that rather than visiting their dentist to receive safe pain relief, individuals might choose to deal with toothache by self-medicating.
Dr Niall McGoldrick, of NHS Fife and Dundee University School of Dentistry said: “The participants told us that when they were using drugs they were not thinking about their oral health.
“In addition to the aesthetic impact of this, it obviously makes them more susceptible to infections and other oral health problems.
“A major concern is that when dealing with significant toothache or other problems, individuals may be tempted to take more drugs to deal with the pain.
“This is one of the first studies to look at this issue, but we have substantial anecdotal evidence about the effects of prolonged or problematic drug use on an individual’s oral health.
“We saw the comics as a novel way to communicate these messages as an adjunct to a wider oral health improvement programme.
“The stories are based on lived experience and each comic is designed around a particular theme.
“We need to engage more with this group and let them know about safe pain relief, how to access treatment and how to look after their family’s oral health.”
The comics are just one of several resources that volunteers with the SDF helped produce to share the impact drugs and alcohol have had on their lives.
Project partners also looked to help increase the confidence of those who have experience with drug or alcohol use when it came to undertaking their own research.
Katy MacLeod, Peer Research and Engagement Programme Manager at SDF, said: “This project has offered a good opportunity for organisations to bring their expertise together and co-produce materials with people with lived and living experience of problematic drug and alcohol use.
“By communicating these messages through the voices of those who have living experience, the project aimed to produce innovative resources for groups who may not typically access dental health services.
“The volunteers involved shared that they identified with the stories, characters and animations that were produced and felt such health messages in this kind of format work.
“We hope that these creative and accessible resources will have a positive impact on raising awareness and increasing uptake of dental health care services amongst people who use substances.”
The OHIPED project involved Professor Christopher Murray, of the School of Humanities and Director of SCCS, and comics artists Dr Damon Herd, Rebecca Horner, Andrew Strachan, Olivia Hicks and Katie Quinn.