Eating Disorders and Oral Health

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Eating disorders occur when people become fixated by what they eat. Affecting more women than men, eating disorders can cause quite a bit of damage to the teeth and mouth. The two most common disorders are bulimia nervosa and anorexia nervosa.

Bulimia nervosa is characterized by repeated, excessive eating, followed by self-induced vomiting (purging). The signs of anorexia nervosa are an extreme fear of gaining weight, a desire to be thin, the failure to maintain a normal weight based on height and age, self-induced starvation and vomiting after anything is eaten.

As a result, the body is starved of vitamins, minerals, proteins and other nutrients that are essential for maintaining good health. Eventually, lacking necessary vitamins and other nutrients could lead to serious injuries affecting the major organs, muscles and even the teeth and oral health.

mouthSelf-induced vomiting can cause erosion (wearing away by chemical) of tooth structure. Because the digestive system releases powerful acids that break down food, self-induced vomiting allows these acids to come in contact with, attack and erode tooth enamel during regurgitation. It may also lead to changes in colour of the teeth.

Anorexia sufferers may experience weakening of the jaw bone resulting from osteoporosis, which also weakens teeth and leads to tooth loss. Signs of eating disorders are readily evident to the dental team. Erosion of tooth enamel, very sensitive teeth, bad breath, dry mouth, cracked, red and dry lips, mouth sores can all be results of eating disorders.

Recovering from Your Disorder and Restoring Your Oral Health

Fixing your mouth after recovering from an eating disorder is important to your self-esteem and your general health. Because of the devastating effect eating disorders can have on the teeth and oral health, no permanent tooth repair (s) should be done until the person has undergone treatment to beat the disorder. In the meantime, there are several steps that can be taken to reduce the effects of the acid on teeth and gums during recovery.

  1. Avoid brushing teeth immediately after vomiting. The powerful stomach acids weaken tooth enamel, and brushing causes the enamel to erode quicker.
  2. Rinse your mouth with water or a fluoride mouth rinse immediately after purging – if this habit is still continuing.
  3. Dentists also recommend brushing daily with fluoridated toothpaste, then flossing to help lessen the likelihood of enamel erosion and gum disease.
  4. A daily fluoride topical application (obtained from your dentist) may help prevent tooth decay and build stronger teeth.
  5. Temporary appliances – such as mouth guards – may be recommended to prevent additional wear.

Once recovered from the eating disorder, repair of the damaged and worn teeth can take place. First and foremost, establishing an open and honest two-way communication with your dentist is the basis to regaining your smile. Advancements in dental science and materials have made tooth restoration for those who have recovered from eating disorders a reality.

Binge & Compulsive Eating

Binge Eating involves repeated occurrences of uncontrolled overeating large amounts of food, often in secret – which are not accompanied by self-induced vomiting. People may binge on any kind of food or specific foods like chocolate, biscuits or cereal.

Compulsive Eating is apparent by nibbling, snacking, going backwards and forwards to get more food but never feeling satisfied.

The problem is that most of the snack food causes decay and regular eating and resultant consistent acid attack on the teeth means there is little time where the teeth can recover.

Another problem is that obesity can lead to type 2 diabetes.  The fat cells are thought to produce a hormone which is resistant to insulin and so glucose is not taken up by the cells of the body from the blood. Diabetes in turn affects the mouth with patients being more susceptible to gum disease and severe gum disease. It does this by altering the structure of the blood vessels. This may affect the efficiency of the blood flow, and in turn may weaken the bone and the gums, leaving them more prone to infections.

Last updated: March 13, 2014

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