Dental practitioners are uniquely positioned to be the first healthcare providers to identify the physical signs of an eating disorder. As such, they play an important role in early intervention and collaboration of appropriate care for patients with eating disorders or subthreshold conditions. Current research indicates that the majority of dental practitioners have low levels of knowledge of the physical signs of an eating disorder and are usually not engaging in eating disorder specific secondary prevention practices. The present study extended these findings and examined skills essential to secondary prevention practices; namely, the ability to identify the physical signs of an eating disorder and the ability to communicate findings to the patient or another healthcare professional. Using an online survey, students and practitioners in dentistry and dental hygiene professions from the Pacific Northwest completed demographic information and assessments of their knowledge and communication skills regarding eating disorders. Results confirmed previous findings that the majority of dental practitioners hold low levels of knowledge of the oral and physical manifestations of eating disorders. Findings also indicated that students similarly have low levels of knowledge in this area. Additionally, all participants who had received training in the communication skills to use with patients exhibiting signs of an eating disorder reported significantly higher levels of knowledge, and of those, dental hygiene students and dentists reported significantly higher communication self-efficacy. Together, the results support the need for improved education and training in the secondary prevention of eating disorders in the dental setting.
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