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Eating disorders and the role of the dental team


Although primarily classified as psychiatric disorders, eating disorders have a complex aetiology and presentation, with comorbidities spanning multiple disciplines, including dental complications. In some cases, general dental practitioners may be the first health professional to become aware that someone is struggling with an eating disorder. The dental team is in an ideal position to sensitively explore the presentation and signpost the patient to appropriate services while offering support and/or remedial management for dental complications of the eating disorder. Anyone from any background, gender or ethnicity may develop an eating disorder, of which the main diagnoses are anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa and binge eating disorder. Some of the frequently seen oral manifestations of these disorders include generalised dental erosion, caries, self-inflicted palatal or oropharyngeal trauma, atrophic mucosa, bilateral parotid gland enlargement, xerostomia and periodontal disease. The dentist's role is pivotal in recognising the possible implications of some of these findings, approaching the patient sensitively, and communicating empathetically to engage them in treatment, reducing the risk of further erosion and improving oral health and hygiene. The dental team may be able to signpost the patient to their general practitioner for onward referral or to a local eating disorder support network.

Key points

  • Eating disorders are relatively common and can affect anyone.

  • The dental team may be able to identify early signs of an eating disorder, perhaps even before the person has acknowledged that there is a problem.

  • Appropriate management within the dental service may support engagement in wider treatment of the eating disorder, improve self-esteem and support recovery.

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Authors and Affiliations



Stephen Anderson delivered a presentation on this topic to the first UK Restorative Dentistry Conference in 2021 and subsequently wrote the paper. Shridevi Gopi-Firth reviewed and developed the paper further.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Stephen Anderson.

Ethics declarations

Stephen Anderson is on the Board of Trustees of Beat. The authors declare no other conflicts of interest.

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Anderson, S., Gopi-Firth, S. Eating disorders and the role of the dental team. Br Dent J 234, 445–449 (2023).

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