SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – A University of Utah Dental School program teaching students how to care for the underserved found that 300 clients who got comprehensive dental care stayed in rehab longer and got jobs and homes.
The difference between them and other addicts was dramatic.
"I was a drug addict, homeless, living on the street. I used to shoplift on a daily basis to support my habit," said Destiny Garcia.
Meth and heroin ruined Destiny's teeth and gums.
Help came in the form of dentistry students.
The students were part of a program called FLOSS devised by the school's vice dean, Glen Hanson.
He'd long suspected oral health would improve drug rehab,
"They noticed that those who were getting comprehensive dental care as part of their treatment they stayed in treatment for substance abuse disorder two to three times longer," said Dr. Dean.
Study participants stayed in rehab 300 days compared to 100 days for those who didn't get care.
They were two to three times more likely to get a job and stay off drugs.
And Dr. Hanson says homelessness almost disappeared.
"Good things are going to happen, both in terms of getting a job, presenting yourself. When you look in the mirror, you have a better feeling of who you are."
The study's authors don't say why the dental program works, but Destiny knows.
"When you're in a drug treatment program, you're working on your insides so much and if you don't work on those outsides to match the way you feel on the inside, people are still going to judge you the same."
She says her new teeth mean new possibilities and allow her to kiss her baby and her family without hiding her mouth.
The original grant for the dentistry program ran out but Dr. Hanson convinced Utah lawmakers to approve a new program that lets them continue to treat people in treatment programs.