Eating disorders are serious illnesses where people become fixated on how much food and drink they consume. Anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa are two of the most common eating disorders and both deprive a person’s body of proteins, minerals, vitamins, and other nutrients essential for good health. As eating disorders progress, the body’s lack of nutrients and vitamins can lead to serious injuries to a person’s muscles, organs, teeth, and overall oral health. Often, the discomfort and pain of dental complications from eating disorders are what push a person to seek treatment for their illness. Once a person seeks treatment for their eating disorder and starts recovering, there are ways to restore their oral health as they return to a healthy lifestyle.
Oral health consequences of eating disorders
Along with damaging internal organs and muscles, eating disorders have detrimental effects on oral health and teeth. When exposed to stomach acid during binging and purging, tooth structure breaks down and erodes. The powerful acids in the digestive system usually break down food in the stomach, but regurgitation brings those acids in contact with teeth, which leads to loss of tooth enamel. This loss of tooth enamel can increase tooth sensitivity and decay rate. Along with enamel erosion, eating disorder behaviors can also change the length, shape, and color of a patient’s teeth. Eating disorders can cause tenderness in the mouth and throat and swollen salivary glands that can result in a widened, square-like shape of the jaw. People sufferings from anorexia can experience osteoporosis that weakens the jawbone and teeth, potentially causing tooth loss.
Oral indications of eating disorders
Although people suffering from eating disorders try to keep it secret, a dentist can usually identify several oral indications of eating disorders including:
- Eroded tooth enamel
- Dry mouth
- Bad Breath
- Mouth sores
- Loss of gum tissue
- Erosive lesions on teeth surfaces
- Tender throat, mouth and salivary glands
- Highly sensitive teeth
- Dry, cracked and red lips
- Exposed tooth pulp in extreme cases which can cause discoloration, infection, and death of pulp
It is ultimately up to the person suffering the eating disorder to seek help, but it’s important that they realize the detrimental effects the illness has on their oral and overall health.
Improving oral health during eating disorder recovery
Once someone suffering from an eating disorder starts seeking professional help and is on the road to recover, they can also start restoring their oral health to aid in the improvement of their self-esteem and physical health. Tooth restoration isn’t safe until the patient has completely overcome and recovered from the eating disorder, but there are steps they can take to reduce the damaging effects of acid on the gums and teeth during recovery. These steps include:
Not brushing immediately after exposure to stomach acids as this erodes the weakened tooth enamel quicker
Rinsing mouth with fluoride mouth rinse or water immediately following exposure to stomach acid
Brushing and flossing daily to lessen the chances of gum disease and enamel erosion
Applying topical fluoride daily to prevent decay and promote tooth strength
Using appliances such as mouth guards to prevent tooth wear
Smile restoration following eating disorder recovery
When a patient has fully recovered from an eating disorder, it’s safe to explore treatments to restore their smile. Patients need to begin and maintain honest communication with their dental professional as they seek help regaining their healthy smile. If teeth have become brittle during the eating disorder, they may require crowns, veneers, root canal therapy, or full mouth reconstruction, depending on the amount of tooth structure loss. Bulimic patients often grind their teeth during their disorder, which can wear down the chewing surfaces of the teeth and lead to a collapsed bite that requires dental correction.
Restoring the smile and confidence of patients recovering and recovered from eating disorders is important to Greater Baltimore Prosthodontics. We exhibit great care and understanding while helping patients build new, beautiful and healthy smiles.