Patients happy to receive support on how to lose weight during routine dental appointments

A dentist talks to a patient in the chair

As public health experts search for new ways to tackle the obesity crisis, a Centre for Lifestyle Medicine and Behaviour (CLiMB) 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.

CLiMB researchers have been looking at how dentists can help to address the issue, 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 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 CLiMB Director.

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.

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