Eating Disorders and Dental Health

Eating disorders are a group of conditions defined by abnormal eating habits – either insufficient or excessive food intake.

The National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) estimates that in the United States, nearly 10 million women and 1 million men are affected by anorexia (extreme fear of gaining weight or a dread of becoming fat) or bulimia (fears of being overweight with hidden periods of overeating followed by purging) while millions more suffer from binge-eating disorders.

Eating disorders result in physical manifestations such as deficiencies in vitamin D, iron and calcium, hormonal imbalance, a ruptured esophagus, stomach and heart problems and malnutrition. While eating disorders affect general health, they also have consequences for oral health.

Oral manifestations differ depending on specific behaviors. For example, binge eating tends to cause tooth decay while anorexia tends to cause periodontal (gum) disease and swollen tissues.

Individuals who binge and purge on high calorie or high carbohydrate foods run the greatest risk of tooth decay. Sugar from these foods creates an acid attack inside the upper front teeth causing erosion on the tooth’s enamel. The act of purging saturates teeth in hydrochloric acid from the stomach causing cavities, discoloration and tooth loss. Within in six months from the onset of bulimia 89% of people show signs of the tooth erosion usually associated with purging.

Signs & Symptoms of Oral Complications Resulting From Eating Disorders:

  • Gums that bleed easily
  • Tissue loss and erosive lesions on the top of teeth
  • Tender mouth, throat and salivary glands
  • Dry mouth
  • Bad breath
  • Reddened, dry or cracked lips
  • Destruction of tooth enamel
  • Change in the color, shape and length of teeth
  • Sensitivity eating hot or cold foods
  • Brittle teeth that chip or break easily
  • Unprovoked, spontaneous pain within a particular tooth

Preventative Steps:

  • Following an episode of vomiting, rinse your mouth with a combination of baking soda and water to neutralize the saliva’s pH
  • After purging, wait at least 40 minutes before brushing. The teeth are covered in stomach acids and the vigorous action of the toothbrush could scratch the tooth enamel and cause further damage. Follow up with a fluoride mouthwash
  • After binging on sugary foods/drinks, rinse with water and a fluoride mouthwash
  • Visit the dentist regularly for check – ups. Talk with your dentist about ways to care for and prevent further damage to hard and soft tissue and discuss ways to minimize enamel loss until the eating disorder behaviors cease

Early detection and intervention play a key role in the recovery of eating disorders and getting to the root of the problem can ensure a successful recovery period for both general and oral health.

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