Oral Health Foundation believes dentists could play integral role in eating disorder diagnosis

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Leading dental charity, the Oral Health Foundation (OHF), believes that dentists could play an integral role in the diagnosis of eating disorders.

Statistics show that around 1.25 million people in the UK have eating disorders. Often, symptoms are visible in the mouth and throat, including enamel erosion, tooth decay, sensitivity and swollen salivary glands. The OHF suggests that dental professionals are in an ideal position to spot warning signs and help to speed up the diagnosis process in patients who have not yet been diagnosed with an eating disorder.

Around 90% of individuals with bulimia and 20% of those with anorexia have signs of enamel erosion.

Chief executive of the foundation, Dr Nigel Carter OBE, explained that dental teams are well-placed to identify signs of eating disorders because they inspect both the soft and hard tissue closely during routine check-ups. Dr Carter said that the UK “needs a far better strategy for diagnosing eating disorders early. The sooner an eating disorder is suspected or recognised, then the more effective treatment will be.” Symptoms are far-ranging and extend beyond signs visible in the mouth. Early intervention will enable patients to see eating disorder specialists sooner and ensure they receive the best possible care from the outset.

Binge eating and purging often cause tooth wear, sensitivity and decay due to high acid content, which weakens and destroys the protective enamel surface. Restricting food intake can also contribute to malnutrition, which can cause the body to shut down.

Dr Carter said that dental professionals could help to play a more active role in the diagnosis of eating disorders by talking calmly to patients who have visible oral symptoms and helping them to get advice, support and treatment through follow-up appointments with doctors who have expertise in diagnosing and treating eating disorders.

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