Dental Tribune Asia Pacific

Eating disorders—Oral health professionals have role in early identification

By Monique Mehler, Dental Tribune International
May 20, 2019

SYDNEY, Australia: Eating disorders and disordered eating together are estimated to affect over 16 per cent of the Australian population, according to the National Eating Disorders Collaboration (NEDC). The Australian Dental Association (ADA) and the NEDC have collaborated in order to spread awareness about eating disorders and their identification and assessment and to encourage referral among 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. Consequently, the oral health practitioner is uniquely positioned as one of the first healthcare providers consulted by an individual demonstrating disordered eating behaviour.

According to the National Practice Standards for Eating Disorders, a document drawn up by the NEDC, dental professionals fall into the group of early identifiers and initial responders. They are defined as follows: “Early identifiers have a duty of care for the well-being of people in high-risk groups for eating disorders and who are most likely to act as the first point of contact for people with eating disorders and their families. The role of early identifiers is to proactively engage people at risk to promote prevention and early help seeking.”

Intra-oral manifestations of nutritional deficiency present early in the clinical course of an eating disorder, and general tooth erosion can take approximately two years to appear. Swelling around the cheeks or jaw or bad breath can be physical warning signs of frequent vomiting. 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 as early as possible.

The NEDC first partnered with the ADA New South Wales (NSW), as part of a combined project, where ADA NSW undertook a focus group of some of their members to understand their perspective on eating disorders, including how to approach a patient living with an eating disorder.

The feedback of this focus group resulted in the development of e-learning resources and provided significant progress in identifying the gaps that exist in the knowledge and identification of eating disorders and practices for a standard approach to care for patients with an eating disorder.

When contacted by Dental Tribune International, the NEDC explained that working with the ADA in some way to create awareness of the oral health practitioner’s position in the identification, treatment and management of an eating disorder was important and was the perfect partner to promote this cause.

The NEDC believes that as an organisation the ADA shares similar values to that of the NEDC. With a focus on collaboration, professionalism, integrity and respect, the NEDC felt that these values aligned with their own.

It is the goal of the NEDC to work collaboratively across the sector to provide better outcomes for all Australians living with an eating disorder, through the sharing and development of evidence-based, nationally consistent information and standards.

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