Eating disorders are a serious health problem, however, most people suffer in silence. Eating disorders can do a great deal of damage to a person’s body and brain functions, but you may not realize the impacts an eating disorder can also have on a person’s oral health. Telltale signs will be obvious to a dental professional and can range from slight to severe. Very often, a dentist or dental hygienist is the first person to detect and diagnose these disorders. According to the American Dental Association, 10 million Americans are affected by serious eating disorders, and the manner in which these eating disorders affect the mouth will prompt those with disorders to get dental help before any other type of aid. Although more prevalent in females, especially teens and young adults, eating disorders can affect anyone. We take a look at what eating disorders are, and how they affect oral health.
What are the types of eating disorders?
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, eating disorders include anorexia, bulimia and binge eating. All three of these disorders will have negative effects on the mouth.
How do eating disorders affect your mouth and body?
All of these eating disorders will have negative effects on the body. The deficiency of vitamins, minerals and nutrients associated with these disorders can cause the body to shut down and fail to function properly. Potential health issues include:
The negative effects of vitamin and nutrient deficiencies will also be reflected in the mouth. Without the proper nutrition, gums and other soft tissue inside the mouth may bleed easily. The glands that produce saliva may swell and individuals may experience chronic dry mouth. Vomiting frequently can also affect teeth. That’s because when strong stomach acid repeatedly flows over teeth, the tooth’s enamel can be lost to the point that the teeth change in color, shape and length. The edges of teeth become thin and break off easily. Eating hot or cold food or drink may become uncomfortable. The telltale oral signs of eating disorders include:
What is the recommended treatment?
People suffering from eating disorders often seek care from their dentist because of problems they notice with their mouth and teeth. A dentist or dental hygienist is trained to identify the oral signs of a serious eating disorder. They will counsel the patient on oral and bodily damage and recommend treatment by a mental health professional. Meanwhile, they will help alleviate the mouth and teeth problems from which the patient is suffering. For example, those who purge by vomiting are cautioned not to brush immediately after since this will enhance the damaging effects of the stomach acids on the teeth. Instead, waiting about a half hour to brush and using a neutral paste such as baking soda are recommended. Preventive and restorative work can include:
The manner in which eating disorders affect your mouth is secondary to the damage that will occur to the body. Seeking help from a mental health specialist, however, is often difficult because of the shame and guilt associated with these disorders. Patients who seek treatment from a dentist for tooth damage and sensitivity will be assessed not only for mouth and teeth issues, but also for problems with their overall wellbeing. This may be the first crucial step toward getting help.
Do you have any questions about eating disorders and your oral health? Call Westermeier Martin Dental care to schedule an appointment with your dentist 716-655-5000 or request an appointment online.