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Dental care professionals can detect eating disorder warning signs
Updated: 7/19/2010 12:21:55 PM

If you suspect that you or a loved one is suffering from under-eating, overeating, or purging after eating, you have reason to worry. More than 10 million women and one million men in the U.S. suffer from anorexia or bulimia, and millions more struggle with binge eating and eating disorders not otherwise specified (EDNOS). According to the National Eating Disorders Association, these biologically based diseases have a genetic link and are as inheritable as bipolar disorder. Eating disorders are life-threatening diseases and are the deadliest mental illness in the country.

Individuals who are concerned about a loved one’s eating behaviors have a new place to turn for insight and diagnosis: dental care professionals. An article by Dentistry IQ states that dentists and dental hygienists can pick up on oral signs of these diseases during a routine dental checkup. These professionals, along with orthodontists and oral surgeons, can be the first line of defense when it comes to identifying initial indicators of an eating disorder.

“Mouth warning signs” include indicators such as tooth decay, gum deterioration, halitosis, and other red flags. These are often among the first symptoms to appear after disordered eating behaviors begin, and they can be apparent in as little as six months after the onset of an eating disorder.

While most eating disorder patients will need treatment beyond the dental chair, dental care professionals can help alert patients and families of potential problems so they can seek the appropriate help. By utilizing the expertise of a dental care professional during a normal, routine visit, parents of a minor can get the insight and diagnosis they seek while avoiding potential defensiveness and denial.

If the dental care professional does recognize an issue or possible warning signs of an eating disorder, it is important to broach the sensitive subject delicately with concern, rather than aggressively with accusation. Stick to the specifics and avoid labels. For example, ask “Do you make yourself throw up?” instead of, “Do you have an eating disorder?” The patient may or may not be open to this conversation.

A variety of treatment centers across the country help patients suffering from anorexia, bulimia, binge eating disorder, and EDNOS. It is important to investigate all potential treatment facilities and options to find a treatment center that can most appropriately meet the patient’s needs.


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