A female dentist is examining a male patient's teeth

Study finds patients happy to get support on how to lose weight during routine dental appointments

As public health experts search for new ways to tackle the obesity crisis, a Loughborough University study has found that patients would welcome support from their dentist on weight management.

With 39 million children under five years of age and 1.9 billion adults worldwide living with excess weight, obesity is a global public health crisis.

Methods for tackling these increasing levels of obesity have changed drastically in recent years, with surgeries and, more recently, weight loss drugs, being seen as a quicker approach than traditional methods such as diet changes and exercise.

Loughborough researchers have been looking at how dentists can help to address the issue. The group have been working directly with dentists and patients to assess how both parties feel about weight management screening and interventions becoming part of a routine dental appointment.

National guidance in the UK already recommends collaboration across healthcare services, including dental teams, to support people living with obesity to make healthy lifestyle changes, during their appointments.

The study, which was conducted by researchers within the University’s Centre for Lifestyle Medicine and Behaviour (CLiMB), found that involvement of dental teams is low and not routine practice at present. The views of teams already providing weight management support though was positive, both in respect to the integration of the service into patient assessment and the receptiveness of the families receiving their services.

The public also appeared in favour of weight screening and discussion if it is performed sensitively and consistently for all patients regardless of their weight status.

The study  has been led paediatric dentist, Jessica Large, and Amanda Daley, a Professor of Behavioural Medicine and Director of CLiMB.

Speaking about the project, Jessica said: “It is positive to see that both the public and those within the profession, are supportive of weight screening, discussion and signposting to support becoming more routine during dental appointments.

“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.”

Professor Daley, said: “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.

“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.”

The study identified several barriers from dental teams about raising the topic of weight and offering interventions, such as weight stigma, lack of time and fear of offending. There is also a clear need for the necessary training and support to be in place if this holistic approach to dental care is to be successful. Clear guidance and advocacy from stakeholders, including professional regulatory bodies, is also required.

The paper, Public and dental teams' views about weight management interventions in dental health settings: Systematic review and meta-analysis, has been published by the Obesity Reviews journal.

The research has been funded via the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Research Professorship award to Professor Amanda Daley, with support from the NIHR Leicester Biomedical Research Centre. The next steps are to explore the views of the public and dental teams about which approaches to weight management work best in dental settings and then to test them out to see if they help the public lose weight.

Professor Daley has published an opinion piece on the role dentists have to play in tackling obesity with the British Dental Journal. She has also worked on a study that looked at obesity, cholesterol, and diabetes screening in primary central care practices.

Notes for editors

Press release reference number: PR 24/22

About Loughborough University

Loughborough is one of the country’s leading universities, with an international reputation for research that matters, excellence in teaching, strong links with industry, and unrivalled achievement in sport and its underpinning academic disciplines.

It has been awarded five stars in the independent QS Stars university rating scheme, named the best university in the world for sports-related subjects in the 2023 QS World University Rankings – the seventh year running – and University of the Year for Sport by The Times and Sunday Times University Guide 2022.

Loughborough is ranked 7th in The UK Complete University Guide 2023, 10th in the Guardian University League Table 2024 and 10th in the Times and Sunday Times Good University Guide 2024.

Loughborough is consistently ranked in the top twenty of UK universities in the Times Higher Education’s ‘table of tables’, and in the Research Excellence Framework (REF) 2021 over 90% of its research was rated as ‘world-leading’ or ‘internationally-excellent’. In recognition of its contribution to the sector, Loughborough has been awarded seven Queen's Anniversary Prizes.

The Loughborough University London campus is based on the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park and offers postgraduate and executive-level education, as well as research and enterprise opportunities. It is home to influential thought leaders, pioneering researchers and creative innovators who provide students with the highest quality of teaching and the very latest in modern thinking.

About the NIHR

The mission of the National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR) is to improve the health and wealth of the nation through research. We do this by:

  • Funding high quality, timely research that benefits the NHS, public health and social care;
  • Investing in world-class expertise, facilities and a skilled delivery workforce to translate discoveries into improved treatments and services;
  • Partnering with patients, service users, carers and communities, improving the relevance, quality and impact of our research;
  • Attracting, training and supporting the best researchers to tackle complex health and social care challenges;
  • Collaborating with other public funders, charities and industry to help shape a cohesive and globally competitive research system;
  • Funding applied global health research and training to meet the needs of the poorest people in low and middle income countries.

NIHR is funded by the Department of Health and Social Care. Its work in low and middle income countries is principally funded through UK Aid from the UK government.