Eating Disorders Are Bad News for Teeth

Eating disorders

Eating disorders affect around 15% of young girls to varying degrees, around five to ten times more than men. These illnesses involve a constant preoccupation with food, a distorted body image and excessive measures taken to control weight… excessive to the point of harming your body’s health, as well as, your mental health and interpersonal relations.

The most common eating disorders are anorexia nervosa (restriction of food intake) and bulimia (episodes of compulsive eating). These two illnesses can alternate or follow one another. They are often accompanied by purges or compensatory behavior intended to limit weight gain. In its most severe form, anorexia nervosa leads to a BMI of less than 17.5 and hormonal disruption. It affects between 0.9% and 1.5% of women and 0.2 to 0.3% of men.

How Do Eating Disorders Damage Your Teeth?

Often patients with eating disorders are embarrassed to see their dentist because of oral issues they may be experiencing. Bad breath, sensitive teeth and tooth erosion are just a few of the signs that dentists use to determine whether a patient suffers from an eating disorder. For those with bulimia, harsh stomach acid from frequent vomiting wears away tooth enamel increasing the risk of tooth decay; and the effects of anorexia, especially the lack of nutrients consumed, can weaken the jaw bone which also weakens teeth and leads to tooth loss.

According to Dr. Matthew Stover, DMD, “One of the first signs that a patient may be suffering from an eating disorder is the thinning of the enamel on the lingual mandibular incisors, otherwise known as your front teeth. Purging causes stomach acid to travel through the mouth, and this acid erodes the backside of the front teeth quite heavily. Erosion that takes place in the tooth’s enamel, which is the protective part of the tooth, can cause sensitivity, thinning and chipping.”

Dentists who detect patients with eating disorders may recommend therapists and teach the patients how to minimize the effects of purging. Dr. Stover instructs patients who are actively purging not to brush their teeth immediately after vomiting, as it can brush the acid deeper into teeth and gums.

“Strong stomach acids can soften tooth enamel, and by vigorously brushing, the tooth enamel may scratch causing further damage,” he says. “Instead, I advise patients to immediately rinse their mouths with regular tap water to help remove acids or rinse with an alcohol-free fluoride mouthwash, which will provide additional protection against stomach acids. Patients should wait at least an hour after purging before brushing their teeth.”

Signs Of An Eating Disorder In The Mouth

By understanding the etiologies of eating disorders, and intervening when appropriate, dental professionals can help the millions of Americans with these deadly diseases start down the road to recovery. According to the Institute of Dental Research, 28% of bulimia cases are first diagnosed during a dental exam.

A routine dental checkup can reveal oral signs of these diseases to a dental professional. Dentists are also able to tell if a person is relatively new or is a chronic purger. Some of the warning signs they look for include:

  • Tooth decay
  • Tooth enamel erosion
  • Gum pain / bleeding gums
  • Dry mouth
  • Chronic sore throat
  • Inflamed esophagus
  • Tender mouth, throat, and salivary glands
  • Teeth that are worn and appear almost translucent
  • Palatal hemorrhages
  • Decreased saliva production
  • Enlarged parotid glands
  • Problems swallowing
  • Jaw alignment abnormalities
  • Cracked lips
  • Sensitive teeth
  • Mouth sores

Prevention

Eating disorders arise from a variety of physical, emotional and social issues all of which need to be addressed to help prevent and treat these disorders. Family and friends can help by setting good examples about eating and offering positive comments about healthy eating practices. While eating disorders appear to focus on body image, food and weight, they are often related to many other issues. Referral to health professionals and encouragement to seek treatment is critical as early diagnosis and intervention greatly improve the opportunities for recovery.

If you suffer from an eating disorder these practices can reduce oral health problems associated with it: 

  • Maintain meticulous oral health care related to toothbrushing and flossing.
  • Immediately after throwing up, do NOT brush but rinse with baking soda.
  • Consult with your dentist about your specific treatment needs.
  • See your dentist regularly.

Resources:

meadowsranch.com

mouthhealthy.org

milestonesprogram.org

We love our patients and love to help them form healthy dental life that will last them a lifetime. For more information call us to answer all of your questions so get an appointment today.