Eating disorders are serious mental health conditions associated with significant physical complications and increased mortality rates. They have a significant and underestimated impact on Australian society and, at any point in time, about one in 20 Australians is living with an eating disorder, a rate that is increasing.
Eating disorders aren’t a lifestyle choice, a diet ‘gone too far’ or a cry for attention. Someone with an eating disorder requires serious medical treatment, help and support.
The National Eating Disorders Collaboration (NEDC) is a government-funded initiative that is working to create a nationally consistent, evidence-based approach to the prevention and management of eating disorders in Australia. The NEDC has partnered with the Australian Dental Association (ADA) to promote awareness about eating disorder identification, assessment and referral amongst oral health professionals.
Early intervention is critical for a patient with an eating disorder; the sooner treatment occurs, the better chance the individual has of recovery. Oral manifestations of an eating disorder may occur before other physical manifestations are recognisable and present in a consistent pattern. Consequently, the oral health practitioner is uniquely positioned as one of the first health care providers engaged by an individual experiencing disordered eating behaviour.
Central to identifying and responding to a patient at risk is the oral practitioner’s ability to recognise disordered eating behaviours; to assess common warning signs; to know of the appropriate referral pathways and own the skills to encourage and support help-seeking behaviour.
How do we recognise disordered eating behaviour? What does ‘help’ look like from an oral health perspective and what are the barriers that practitioners may experience in providing help?
Intraoral manifestations of nutritional deficiency present early in the clinical course of an eating disorder, while general tooth erosion can take approximately two years to appear. The ability of the oral health practitioner to recognise the subtle changes in the mouth of a patient, is central to identifying early indicators of an eating disorder. This critical ability results in more favourable treatment outcomes through early diagnosis.
For the rest of this article, please go to News Bulletin Online (April Issue); to watch the presentation on eating disorders, go to the ADA’s CPD Portal – “Open Your Mouth – Education on eating disorders for dentists”