By Susan Richards
Not counting the dreaded extra pandemic pounds many Americans have reported, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimates the U.S. obesity prevalence is at 42.4% – an increase of almost 12% over the numbers in 2000. Obesity can contribute to multiple health issues and is considered a global epidemic.
Fighting obesity is also a worldwide concern, and despite taking a hit during 2020 when gyms closed and people threw diets out the window, weight loss is still a $72 billion industry. Extreme and unusual diet plans were probably the original clickbait and anyone visiting the internet has been inundated with miracle pills and creams, fat-reducing wraps and devices, and questionable “medical” procedures.
One particular device was recently developed with more serious credentials than you’d find with, say, the sauna suit. Researchers from the U.K. and the University of Otago in New Zealand have introduced the DentalSlim Diet Control – an intraoral appliance that is fitted by a dental professional and prohibits the wearer from ingesting anything more than liquids.
The device is custom fit to the upper and lower back teeth with magnetic locking bolts, keeping the mouth from opening more than 2mm. It doesn’t restrict breathing or speech and can be released in case of emergency.
The research team touts DentalSlim Diet Control as a helpful tool for those needing to lose weight before surgery or for managing diabetes, as well as an alternative to bariatric procedures, a serious and not inexpensive method of treating morbid obesity.
Professor Paul Brunton, who led the study, was effusive about the non-invasive and economical aspects of the weight loss tool, saying “The fact is, there are no adverse consequences with this device.”
Positive | Negative
Professor Brunton and his team published their clinical findings in the British Dental Journal (BDJ), citing successful results with seven healthy obese subjects. The appliance was attached to their first molars, and they were put on a liquid diet for two weeks. Results showed a mean weight loss of approximately 14 lbs., representing about 5% of their body weight.
While the pounds lost are encouraging, the single-digit quantity of participants makes this study of no clinical significance. One subject (new personal hero) reportedly bent the rules by consuming forbidden foods such as chocolate, by melting it. Moreover, responses from the public and media have been as negative as two positive magnets.
In fact, a recent editor’s note has been added to the BDJ site, saying: Concerns have been raised about undisclosed conflicts of interests and discrepancies between the reported study and the clinical trial record. Appropriate editorial action will be taken once this matter is resolved.
When the University of Otago announced the development on social media, the feedback was immediate with concerns about dental hygiene, health risks, and body image shaming.
Researchers quickly responded to the blowback by clarifying, “The intention of the device is not intended as a quick or long-term weight-loss tool.” Although, this seems at odds with the first sentence of their own announcement boldly claiming, “they have developed a world-first weight-loss device to help fight the global obesity epidemic.”
With a touch of horror, Dr. Michael Silverman, DMD asked, “Is it advanced technology or a modernized medieval torture device?”
One of the most critically damning statements came from the Academy for Eating Disorders (AED), which is made up of physicians, psychiatrists, dietitians, and more. In addition to the design and analyses of the study, plus the detrimental cycle of rapid weight loss and regain, the AED addressed the implied stigma and the potential for psychological damage, “calling upon the entire health care community to question the use of not only this device, but of all weight loss methods that perpetuate weight stigma and may lead to patient harm.”
Dental professionals understand the difficulties of treating medically complex patients who may have health issues like diabetes or sleep apnea as a result of obesity, especially when incorporating a sedation protocol. Will dentists be willing to put their patients in another “lockdown” in order to reduce their weight and risks?
The weight loss industry – scientific or fad – isn’t going anywhere soon, but there are certainly better and safer ways to improve our patients’ physical and oral health than the equivalent of wiring their mouths shut.
Author: Susan Richards is a staff writer at DOCS Education. With over 20 years of experience in local journalism and business marketing, Susan’s career includes award-winning feature writing, as well as creating content with context for a wide variety of industries.