November 5th, 2015
You might be surprised that a dental office is writing about eating disorders. But eating disorders like bulimia and anorexia nervosa can devastate your teeth, gums and overall oral health. According to the National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA), about 20 million women and 10 million men suffer from a clinically significant eating disorder for a period of time in their lives in the US. That’s a lot of people suffering with a disorder that can seriously damage not only your teeth, but your entire life.
Dentists are often the first people to discover that a patient has an eating disorder because the signs are so obvious. We’re going to take a look at some of those signs today.
What are eating disorders?
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, eating disorders are illnesses that cause extreme changes to your daily diet, such as eating very small amounts of food everyday or severe overeating. A person with an eating disorder may be able to alter their diet with small changes at first, but at some point the urge to eat less or more becomes uncontrollable.
Some of the most common eating disorders include anorexia nervosa, bulimia and binge eating. Anorexia nervosa usually involves a severe and distorted fear of becoming fat or gaining weight. People with anorexia may not be fat at all, or may even be underweight. This fear can lead the person to undereat, exercise excessively, or purge after eating by forcing themselves to throw up or use laxatives, diuretics, or enemas.
Bulimia nervosa typically involves seemingly uncontrollable overeating (binging) followed by purging with self-induced vomiting, excessive exercise, or using laxatives, diuretics or enemas.
The American Dental Association notes that eating disorders are caused by various physical, emotional and social issues and focus on body image, food and weight, along with many other issues. Eating disorders are much more complicated than whether someone is overweight, underweight or anywhere in between.
What are some signs that an eating disorder is damaging your teeth?
Eating disorders can wreak havoc on your entire body, including your teeth. While it may be hard for parents to tell if their child has an eating disorder, it’s typically obvious to dentists after a certain period of time. Many of the dental issues that come along with eating disorders are caused by stomach acids damaging your teeth as a result of vomiting. But nutritional deficiencies caused by under eating are also terrible for your dental health.
Here are a few signs that an eating disorder is damaging your oral health and teeth:
- Xerostomia, or dry mouth symptom, caused by enlarged salivary glands
- Tooth decay and enamel erosion, especially in the inside of the upper front teeth
- Tooth sensitivity, thinning and chipping due to enamel erosion
- Tooth discoloration and/or change in the shape or size of your teeth
- Mouth sores that may bleed easily
- Bleeding gums
- Tender mouth and throat
- Dry, red and cracked lips
Treating eating disorders
Though your dentist may be able to temporarily improve the dental damage caused by eating disorders, there’s not much they can do to heal your teeth in the long run if the eating disorder continues. The best thing you can do is see an experienced and skilled therapist that specializes in eating disorders. Since eating disorders are complicated and vary from person to person, it’s very important that someone who suffers with an eating disorder speak with an expert as soon as possible.
To reduce the effects of purging on your teeth, don’t brush your teeth right after you vomit. The acids from your stomach erode your enamel, and brushing your teeth immediately afterwards can make enamel erosion even worse. Instead, immediately wash out your mouth with club soda, a sugar-free mouthwash, or, as a last resort, water. This will help neutralize the stomach acids. 30 minutes later, gently brush your teeth with a soft toothbrush and fluoride toothpaste.
If you think you might have an eating disorder, it’s important that you seek professional help as soon as possible before irreversible damage is done. Along with damaging your relationships, mental health, self-esteem, and physical body, eating disorders can also result in death.
Please don’t be afraid to visit Water Tower Dental Care or contact us if you’re worried about how your diet is affecting your teeth and oral health. We have seen many patients with eating disorders and would love to inspect your mouth to let you know how your teeth are doing.
We also work with a Behavioral Health Care Center in our office that specializes in eating disorders, called ASCENDchc. Together, we can put you on the path to a healthier life.