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 may feel intrusive.

It's common practice for dental professionals to take a holistic view of a patient's health but some may 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 make sure you draw up an appropriate treatment plan and give the patient relevant advice.

DDU advice

  • It's sensible for patients to be asked 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, make patients feel at ease and not as though they are 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 the patient 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 28/05/2021. 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.