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Eating Disorders and Dental Health

Eating disorders deeply effect the dental health of millions of people in the United States each year. The two most common eating disorders, anorexia and bulimia, impact the health of teeth and gums as well as overall physical and mental health.

What are Eating Disorders?

Eating disorders can result from a variety of causes, both internal and external. These factors can include biological tendencies for developing an eating disorder, psychological and emotional issues, and the modern Western cultural desire to be thin, which is often equated to success and power. Eating disorders tend to be more common in teenage and young adult women, and manifest themselves in two main ways:

Anorexia nervosa, a condition where individuals deprive themselves of food to the point of starvation due to an intense fear of gaining weight.

Bulimia nervosa, a destructive pattern of binge eating followed purging behaviors, such as vomiting, in order to expel food and keep from gaining weight.

While these two common eating disorders effect the overall health of individuals, they can be particularly destructive to long-term dental health.

Long-Term Effects of Eating Disorders

Anorexia and bulimia are detrimental to long-term dental health.

With anorexia, an individual deprives his or her body from vital nutrients that keep all aspects of the body functioning properly, including the teeth. The deprivation of calories and nutrients – such as calcium, iron, vitamin B and vitamin D – cause teeth and gums to weaken and disrupts the proper balance of nutrients required for good oral health.

Bulimia, however, creates a different but just as destructive set of dental issues in individuals because of the cycle of binge eating and vomiting that characterizes the condition. A person suffering with bulimia tends to eat without regard for the nutritional value of the food, which is detrimental to teeth. Purging, the second part of the cycle, stomach acid passes through the mouth and erodes teeth enamel.

It’s impossible to hide these effects from a dentist, which is why dental professionals are the first to see the symptoms of an eating disorder. Both eating disorders lead to tooth weaking, tooth decay, enamel erosion, and gum disease. Additional symptoms that indicate an individual has an eating disorder include:

Dry mouth

Bad breath

Mouth sores

Dry, cracked lips

Erosion of tooth enamel

Tenderness of the mouth, throat and salivary glands

Sensitive teeth

Treating Dental Effects of Eating Disorders

Fortunately, seeing the dentist due to dental problems resulting from eating disorders can lead to long-term healing from the symptoms and conditions. It is imperative to seek professional help for both physical and emotional well-being.

Once the necessary overall treatment for the eating disorder has begun, your dentist can begin to treat the effects on your dental health. After a comprehensive dental exam, treatment may likely include restorations that include crowns or veneers depending on the state of an individual’s teeth. To help strengthen and protect teeth, an individual may need to use fluoridated toothpaste, fluoride applications, and a mouth guard.