Educating dentists about ‘Ed’ – share your story

Educating dentists about ‘Ed’ – share your story

June Alexander, age 17,  feeling reluctant to smile for the camera. Effects of anorexia and bulimia had ravaged my teeth - I especially disliked the gold filling in my top two front teeth. I felt conspicuous. Read my story in A Girl Called Tim  EB:  or PB:

June Alexander, age 17, feeling reluctant to smile for the camera. Effects of anorexia and bulimia had ravaged my teeth – I especially disliked the gold filling in my top two front teeth. I felt conspicuous. Read my story in A Girl Called Tim

Smile, and the world smiles with you. But smiling can be difficult when teeth suffer from an eating disorder. Despite growing up on a dairy farm – plenty of fresh milk – my teeth suffered greatly when anorexia developed at age 11. I felt so embarrassed, I did not want to smile. Fast forward to today, when I have a chance to get back at ‘Ed’ by telling dentists how they can help their patients whose teeth show signs of an eating disorder.  My dentist, who has accomplished great things in repairing my teeth so that I can smile, and is always interested in hearing about my latest book on eating disorders, decided this illness is something his profession needs to know more about … so, on April 5, I will co-present with Prof. Susan Paxton at the 35th Australian Dental Congress in Melbourne. Our presentation is listed on the main scientific program. Ouch! Our topic is: Reflux and related diseases.

The congress theme is Fact, Fiction and Fantasy – perfect for an enlightening segment on eating disorders.

Cate, who created the wonderful avatars for the newly-released book Ed says U said, is already dreaming up some special avatars to push the main messages. We imagine that humour – including a wicked tooth fairy (Ed’s alias) amid the seriousness of it all will help give the dentists a message that they will remember when they return to their dental surgeries:–)

How you can help

I am putting together the content and encourage you to contribute your experience and thoughts to help educate our dentists and their dental staff. Basically, I want to help dentists and their staff to be aware of the signs, symptoms and effect of eating disorders and educate them in how to help their patients. This is where personal experience is invaluable.

* Do you have your own story to tell about dental consequences of an eating disorder?
* What would have helped you? (At what point did you become aware the eating disorder was affecting your teeth?
* What could the dentist say or ask that would have helped you at the time, to make it easy to say ‘yes, I have an eating disorder’? Did your dentist say something that caused you to deny you had a problem, maybe made you vow not to return to that surgery? What was the best advice that your dentist gave to you?
* Did you postpone going to the dentist because you were feeling nervous at being ‘found out’? Or were you relieved when your dentist said something? Had your illness been diagnosed at this time?
*What would you like dentists to know about the difficulties of your illness?
*Would it help to have early education about dental care when accessing ED treatment, would that awareness and knowledge have spurred your fight against the eating disorder (like, would the thought of losing your teeth have inspired you to try even harder in withstanding the bully illness?)
*Did you hope your dentist would raise the issue and become part of your collaborative treatment team?
* Can you suggest further insights which would be handy for both dentist and patient?
*How important are your teeth to you? When you smile?
This is the abstract for the ED segment: Eating disorders: A practical approach for dentists

Eating disorders are common mental health problems especially amongst adolescent girls and young women.  Eating disorder symptoms, especially purging and binging behaviours, may contribute to dental erosion.  Consequently, dentists may suspect that a patient has an eating disorder and/or be the first person in whom a patient confides about their eating behaviours.  In either situation it may be unclear how best to proceed as patients are often reluctant to admit to an eating disorder.  This presentation will review the symptoms and prevalence of eating disorders and describe recommended treatment approaches.  It will discuss the role a dentist may play in secondary prevention of both eating  and dental problems by opening a conversation with a patient suspected of an eating disorder, supporting appropriate treatment seeking, providing appropriate referral or participating in a multidisciplinary team. 
Prof. Paxton is a researcher in the field of eating disorders, and I am a survivor of eating disorders. So together we comprise academic and life experience expertise. I will introduce our topic and describe the symptoms and prevalence of eating disorders, illustrating with real-life dental experiences from sufferers of eating disorders. Prof. Paxton will then proceed to explain how a dentist could approach the issue – for instance  what to do or say when he or she suspects an eating disorder is causing teeth deterioration.

The sharing of your experiences will be anonymous. In brief, I seek life experiences from sufferers of eating disorders – your feelings in a) going to the dentist b) responding to questions c) effect of dental visit d) effect of ED on your teeth – short term, long term and e) effect on your happiness, and above all, your smile:-). What steps can dentists take to help a patient who they suspect may have an eating disorder sufferer today?

Thanks for listening! I look forward to your response – by March 15. Write to

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