Asking patients about drinking and smoking habits

Asking patients if they drink or smoke often forms an important part of a consultation and treatment plan - but it can feel intrusive.

It's common practice for dental professionals to take a holistic view of a patient's health, but some might be concerned about asking questions that could be seen as unnecessary or intrusive.

However, some patients may still not be aware of the impact of a number of lifestyle factors on their oral health. Asking questions during consultations can help you draw up an appropriate treatment plan and give relevant advice.

DDU advice

  • It's sensible to ask patients if they smoke, as smoking can increase the risk of oral cancer and periodontitis.
  • Alcohol consumption is a risk factor for oral cancer, so it's also helpful to have an idea of a patient's drinking habits.
  • When conducting consultations and asking questions about lifestyle, it's important to explain why your questions are relevant, so patients feel at ease and not as though they're under scrutiny.
  • There will be patients who don't want to be questioned about their drinking and smoking habits. You should respect this and record that they declined to respond to your questions.
  • If you detect a condition that could have been exacerbated by a lifestyle choice, you should advise the patient accordingly.

This page was correct at publication on 27/07/2022. Any guidance is intended as general guidance for members only. If you are a member and need specific advice relating to your own circumstances, please contact one of our advisers.