A NUMBER of children treated for anorexia in a Dublin hospital may have developed the illness after suffering mouth pain due to dental braces.
The pain caused by the braces, which causes teeth to loosen and move around, can lead to a child adopting overly cautious eating habits that can develop into more serious problems.
The doctors in Temple Street Hospital found a number of the young patients had started orthodontic treatment to straighten their teeth before the eating disorder began.
"When braces are fitted and frequently adjusted, the teeth loosen and move, causing pain," they explained.
The pain and food restriction may cause the young person to suffering "unintentional weight loss, which could later lead to disordered eating", they said.
"Sometimes dental professionals may discourage certain foods if they interfere with treatment which the perfectionist child may over-interpret," they warned in the 'Irish Medical Journal'.
The study found that more than one in three of children whose weight had plummeted to a point where they needed to be hospitalised had had orthodontic treatment. This appeared "disproportionately high".
Although no Irish figures are available on the prevalence of orthodontic treatment, in the UK it is estimated that 14pc of 15-year-olds have orthodontics.
"Future research should explore the relationship of orthodontics to weight loss," said the Temple Street doctors.
The seven-year study of 20 children found that, overall, children suffering from anorexia whose weight has fallen to a level where they need to be hospitalised were getting younger.
And nearly one in three of the group of these patients studied by doctors were boys.
The research pointed out that the age at which these children are presenting is now around 13.5 years – six months earlier than in 2002.
Anorexia nervosa is a serious mental illness best treated outside hospital but those with critically low weight require admission.
In the study of all patients presented through A&E and on admission, girls were more underweight than boys. This was despite girls presenting to hospital sooner than boys post- onset of symptoms.
Aside from low weight, over-exercising and food restricting were the most common presenting features.
The treatment they receive acknowledges the importance of the parents and child in recovery.