The Oral Health Foundation, a leading dental charity, has called for the role of dentists in identifying early signs of an eating disorder to receive greater recognition.
Karen Coates, an oral health content specialist at the Foundation told Independent Nurse: ‘Dentists could be crucial in bringing up the sensitive issue of a possible eating disorder with their patients when they detect classic signs of enamel erosion and as a result of excessive purging (vomiting).’
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Research from the Foundation has found that nine in ten patients with bulimia, and one in ten patients with anorexia suffer from poor oral health. While most eating disorders go undiagnosed, physical manifestations can begin in the mouth and indicate the beginning or severity of the problems the patient is experiencing.
‘As a dental professional, they can suggest that their patient, seeks help from their GP or organisations, such as BEAT who will be able to further discuss any issues with them,’ said Ms Coates. ‘The dentist will also be able to offer preventative treatment such as a high fluoride toothpaste, or a nightguard to prevent the grinding. This could include restorative dental work when the eating disorder is more under control.’
Rhian Lovell has recovered from anorexia and bulimia, but the legacy of her battle lives on in her severe dental complications; spending about £7000 trying to fix her teeth. Now 41, she has been in and out of treatments since the age of 15, but told Independent Nurse: ‘No medical professional ever asked me how my teeth are doing.’
‘Problems with teeth like erosion and decay provide a window of opportunity for the medical professionals, especially dentists, to take these things more seriously and provide requisite support.’
‘Immediately after being sick, you need to wait before brushing, because your teeth are still weak from the acid. But I was never told this.’
Organisations are addressing the crucial role of oral health and dental professionals through positive initiatives. Campaigns like the National Smile Month, run by the Oral Health Foundation, dedicate 2 weeks to discuss the connections between mouth, mind and body. Similarly, BEAT, the UK’s leading eating disorder charity, has produced guidance tools for dental professionals on eating disorder detection such as identifying signs and symptoms, offering support to patients and understanding next steps and specialist referrals.
With about 3.24 million individuals in the UK affected by life-threatening eating disorders, ‘The UK needs a far better strategy for diagnosing eating disorders early,’ said Dr Nigel Carter, Chief Executive of the Oral Health Foundation. Through routine dental examinations, ‘dentists can be a vital link in caring for patients with eating disorders’.