How Eating Disorders Impact Oral Health

March 15, 2019

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Over 10 million Americans are currently suffering from serious eating disorders. Individuals experiencing these illnesses are faced with the challenge of following a healthy and stable diet, and will either excessively overeat or, on the contrary, refrain from eating altogether. Despite which side of the spectrum the individual may fall on, these illnesses takes a heavy toll on the mental, physical, and social states of those affected.

The poor dietary habits associated with eating disorders have severe consequences on one’s health, including oral health. With teeth and mouth being on the front line of food intake, or lack thereof, your oral health is one of the central areas impacted. The most common eating disorders are anorexia, bulimia, and binge eating, all of which harm your teeth and gums in their own ways.   

Anorexia

This eating disorder is characterized by an individual having a distorted self-image with an overbearing fear of being overweight, which causes them to follow an extreme “diet” and cut food intake dramatically. A major consequence of this specific illness is nutritional deficiency. By reducing the amount of food consumed, you’re stopping your body from receiving essential vitamins, minerals, and fluids; especially ones that benefit the teeth and mouth. Limiting essential nutrients, such as calcium, iron, and B vitamins, can lead to all of the following side effects:

  • Inflamed and bloody gums

  • Osteoporosis, which leads to bone loss in the jaw

  • Frequent cavities or root canals

  • Recurrent canker sores

  • Tooth decay

  • Gum disease

  • Dry mouth

  • Bad breath

Bulimia

Similar to anorexia, this illness is caused by having a distorted self-perception. However, what distinguishes bulimia is the action of binging and purging, which is the vicious circle of excessively eating then intentionally forcing it out by vomiting, exercising or taking laxatives. Along with malnutrition, this illness can be very damaging to the teeth and gums due to the stomach acid from frequent vomiting. When powerful acid is repeatedly in contact with teeth, numerous consequences can occur, including:

  • Deterioration / loss of enamel

  • Tooth erosion

  • Discoloration of teeth

  • Sensitive teeth

  • Frequent cavities or root canals

  • Cracked lips

  • Dry mouth

  • Inflamed salivary glands

  • Difficulty swallowing

  • Soft tissue damage to gums, side of the mouth, and back of the throat

Binge Eating

This illness is the opposite of the two others mentioned, as it involves compulsive eating. Besides the obvious health conditions linked to poor eating habits, binge eating opens the door to a whole list of oral health complications. The issue with this illness is that often the foods being over-consumed are high in sugar, are acidic, and are low in nutritional value; and these unhealthy foods can damage the teeth and mouth in many ways:

  • Frequent cavities

  • Tooth decay

  • Can eventually lead to tooth discoloration

  • Sensitivity to hot and cold

  • Mouth infection

  • Tooth loss

Prevention

Eating disorders affect both men and women of all ages and can arise from a magnitude of personal, physical, emotional, and social issues. If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating is strongly encouraged to seek professional treatment. This starts with talking to your health care provider for solutions. Early diagnosis can significantly reduce the side effects and get you or a loved one on the proper road to recovery.

Dentists are actually able to recognize oral signs of eating disorders. Nonetheless, it is crucial that you share with them any illnesses you are suffering from so they can help alleviate some of the damage. For example, your dentist may recommend fluoride treatments, which can strengthen tooth enamel. Or, they may suggest using dental care products such as toothpaste, gum, or mints, with the ingredient Xylitol, which is a sugar substitute. Alternatively, your dentist may offer a mouthguard to minimize the contact and impact of stomach acids on teeth.

Dental care can be hard to come by. If you’re searching for affordable, quality dental care, consider a dental discount program such as that offered by Dental Solutions. Our program can benefit you and your family and help you find solutions to even your most personal dental needs.
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