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News / April 18, 2018

Dentists ‘key’ in detecting eating disorders

by Guy Hiscott

Dentists could be playing a ‘key role’ in detecting patients with eating disorders, according to research.

Researchers from King’s College London found that many eating disorder conditions, including anorexia nervosa, bulimia and gastro-oesophageal reflux disease, result in erosion of the tooth enamel.

Many patients may be reluctant to visit a doctor, but may still visit dentists for treatment of conditions such as tooth wear.

‘Dentists are uniquely placed to provide an early warning for eating disorders, so it’s tragic that they have been left out of the equation,’ Henrik Overgaard-Nielsen, British Dental Association chair of General Dental Practice, said. ‘Left without the time, training or appropriate pathways to refer patients, we cannot unlock this potential.’

The Irish Dental Association (IDA) was unavailable to comment.

Facts and advice

Up to 200,000 people in Ireland may be affected by eating disorders with 400 new cases emerging each year, representing 80 deaths annually, according to the Department of Health and Children (2006).

‘It would often be the dentist who notices tooth erosion in the first place,’ Harriet Parsons of Bodywhys, the Eating Disorders association of Ireland, told Irish Dentistry. ‘Dentists are key to being able to spot those things and recognise that there’s some kind of a problem going on outside of patients’ regular dental care.

‘They can then offer guidance or information about where to get help or treatment if they feel confident to do so.’

Irish Dentistry asked Bodywhys: what is the first step if a dental professional suspects an eating disorder?

Harriet says: ‘Before speaking to the patient, do your research. We offer advice for dentists that offers a detailed overview on eating disorders and advice for dentists who may be supporting patients directly affected by the issue.

‘If they feel confident to speak to the patient, ask them to come back again to discuss what might be going on. It’s important to understand that eating disorders are a way of coping, and that the person may be very sensitive.

‘A way to tackle this can be to say to the patient: I noticed this is going on, are you worried about it, this is what I know and this is where you can go for help. That is the boundary role of the dentist.’

Check out Irish Dentistry‘s focus on vulnerable patients throughout 2018