Patients support weight screening during routine dental appt

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Holistic dentistry: Patients support weight management during routine dental appointments

A recent study has found that patients approve of weight screening by dental teams, as long as it is performed in a sensitive way and applied to all patients, regardless of their weight status. (Image: Monkey Business Images/Shutterstock)

LOUGHBOROUGH, UK: In response to the global obesity crisis and its proven connection to oral health, researchers from Loughborough University have conducted a first-of-its-kind study that explored both dental professionals’ and the public’s perspectives on integrating weight management interventions within the dental setting. Even though the research team identified potential barriers, the study results showed that weight screenings are generally well received by patients. For establishing weight screenings in dental practices on a large scale, increased training of dental teams and guidelines are needed.

Global obesity rates have seen a significant increase. Adult obesity has more than doubled since 1990, and adolescent obesity has seen a fourfold rise. By 2022, the World Health Organization reported that 2.5 billion adults aged 18 and over were overweight, and 890 million of them had obesity. Additionally, in the same year, there were 37 million children under the age of 5 who were classified as overweight. As reported by Dental Tribune International (DTI), diabetes has detrimental effects on the oral health of children and adults.

Collaborative approaches across healthcare to address obesity are needed, but intervention in dental settings has not yet been widely implemented. Dental practices offer a unique platform for health screenings, especially for patients who visit the dentist every 12 months, but do not frequently consult a general practitioner. In addition, a recent article from DTI emphasised the capacity of dental professionals to screen patients for chronic diseases.

The research team reviewed 33 studies and found that the prevalence of height and weight screenings in dental settings varied and an average of 29% undertake screening. Those dental teams who had already incorporated routine weight management interventions into their practice reported a positive response, noting that families were receptive and the integration of these services into regular patient assessments was seamless. Additionally, it was found that patients support weight screening and discussions conducted by dental teams, provided they are carried out with sensitivity and applied uniformly to all patients, irrespective of their weight status.

Lead author Dr Jessica Large, doctoral researcher at the university, commented on the study results in a press release: “It is positive to see that both the public and those within the profession are supportive of weight screening”, signposting to support becoming more routine during dental appointments.

She added: “All health professionals have the opportunity to contribute to reducing obesity and improving health, and these results suggest that with the right support and training, dentists could help in a positive way to achieve this.”

Co-author Dr Amanda Daley, professor of behavioural medicine and director of the Centre for Lifestyle Medicine and Behaviour at the university, said: “The initial assessment has shown that members of the public would like to see support from their dentist in relation to weight loss, and with obesity levels continuing to grow, an ‘all hands on deck’ approach is now increasingly necessary.”

Potential barriers to weight discussion in dental settings

The researchers identified various obstacles that prevent dental teams from providing weight management. These included fear of offending patients, risk of inducing harm by pointing out the possibility that patients might have an eating disorder, and lack of time, appropriate training and guidelines. In addition, the research team found stigmatising views of dental teams towards people with overweight or obesity as a barrier to weight management.

Further research and training needed

The authors concluded that, even though a variety of barriers for weight management within the dental team were identified, patients show a high acceptance of weight screening and intervention. Further research is needed to explore the most viable and accepted weight intervention approaches within dental settings. In addition, raising awareness of weight stigma and training the entire dental team in order to be able to deliver supportive and sensitive interventions is of great importance.

“Dentists consult with most of the population at least once a year, providing an ideal opportunity to screen and intervene to reduce obesity. They also engage in other behaviour change interventions such as stopping smoking and dietary advice in connection to reducing sugary snacks and drinks. This puts them in a strong position to address weight concerns,” emphasised Prof. Daley.

The study, titled “Public and dental teams’ views about weight management interventions in dental health settings: Systematic review and meta-analysis”, was published online on 11 February 2024 in Obesity Reviews, ahead of inclusion in an issue.

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