You have read again and again that what you eat impacts your oral health. Eating a lot of high sugar and starchy foods often lead to gum disease and tooth decay while a poor diet with highly acidic foods and drinks leads to cavities, enamel erosion and tooth sensitivity. But did you know that eating disorders don’t just affect your weight and body, they can also have a detrimental effect on your oral health?
Eating disorders are dangerous conditions which affect one’s eating behaviour. Someone with an eating disorder may eat too much and over eat then purge or may also eat too little. These abnormal eating behaviours can create a host of severe health issues including oral health problems.
Eating disorders are a serious issue in society today however, unfortunately many people suffer in silence. These disorders undoubtedly have many negative effects on the body but what many people don’t realise is that the first part of your body to suffer is your oral health. While the state of the mouth may not be the first thing that usually comes to mind when one hears the term ‘eating disorder, it is very important that people are aware of the risks as the first place these disorders usually attack is your mouth.
Although those who have eating disorders like Bulimia and Anorexia tend to hide them and sometimes they succeed quite well however, due to the oral effects these disorders have, it is highly unlikely that these disorders can be hidden from your dentist.
In this blog post we will look into the main symptoms and conditions of the most common eating disorders and how they can affect the health of your mouth and how our dental team can help you.
- 89% of people with bulimia have signs that show up in the mouth (National Eating Disorder Association, 2002).
How can a dental team help detect eating disorders?
If any of our team suspect that you might be suffering from an eating disorder they aren’t clinical doctors that will frighten you nor will they interrogate you. Our team of trained professionals will calmly talk to you about the clinical signs they can see in your mouth and how to reverse or reduce any damage that is caused. The more open and honest you are with your dental team, the better they will be able to help you. Our team at The Neem Tree can be trusted to help you and will not judge you over any symptoms you are having.
Our dentists, dental hygienists, dental nurses and therapists are in a great position to recognise the early warning signs of eating disorders. During your dental check up, your dentist will examine both the hard and soft tissues of the mouth to look for any signs of erosion of decay in the mouth.
Erosion can occur through stomach acid in the mouth and tooth decay can occur from excessive sugar consumption and nutrient deficiencies which are both evident signs of present eating disorders.
How can eating disorders affect the health of your mouth?
All of these eating disorders affect your health and should be treated as serious health conditions. Potential negative effects of nutrient deficiencies can cause the body to not function as it is supposed to and that will be reflected in the health of your mouth. Oral signs of eating disorders include:
- Dry mouth
- Tooth decay
- Enamel erosion
- Enlargement of the glands that produce saliva
- Trauma to the roof of the mouth
- Severe dry/ cracked lips
- Sensitive teeth
- Mouth sores
- Bruising to the mouth
Types of Eating Disorders
There are three primary types of eating disorders. These include Bulimia Nervosa, Binge Eating disorder and Anorexia Nervosa. While eating disorders can affect any gender of any age group, they are most frequently diagnosed in women and adolescents.
This eating disorder is usually referred to as Bulimia. People who suffer from this eating disorder often go through cycles of bingeing and that is followed by purging. During a binge, thousands of calories are usually consumed in one sitting, usually accompanied by feelings of loss of control. During the purge those suffering with this disorder force themselves to regurgitate the binged food. Sometimes bulimics also use enemas or laxatives in order to force the body to get rid of the food consumed during the binge eating.
Binge Eating Disorder (BED)
Similar to Bulimia, binge eating disorder involves extreme amounts of food being consumed within a relatively short time frame. The difference between BED and bulimia is that those with BED usually suffer with feelings of guilt and shame after they binge eat whereas those with bulimia attempt to get rid of the binged food through laxatives, or vomiting.
This eating disorder is commonly known as just anorexia and is characterised by extreme fear or anxiety regarding eating and weight gain. Those with anorexia often severely restrict their intake of food to the point of starving themselves while also exercising excessively. Some people with anorexia also abuse medications such as diuretics and laxatives to rid their body of calories (which also has side effects on oral health).
Eating disorders can cause a range of serious health issues including several different oral health issues concerns. Often eating disorders are actually first recognised by oral health professionals because of the dental symptoms that are accompanied by the disorders.
FACT: 89% of people with bulimia have signs that show up in the mouth such as tooth erosion or mouth sores.
What your dentist can do to help you with your eating disorder
The first protocol for your dentist for any patient with an eating disorder (whether diagnosed, undiagnosed or in recovery) is to offer detailed advice and instructions on how to carry out good oral hygiene routines and protect their teeth.
E.g. You should not brush your teeth straight after throwing up as doing this may strip away the already weakened enamel of your teeth. Instead of this, a great option would be to do a normal water rinse of a rinse mixed with baking-soda to neutralise the stomach acid.
Dentists can also provide you with a personally customised treatment plan for any existing oral health problems related to the disorder or any that are on the cusp of developing further.
Along with restorative treatments, frequent preventative dental visits may be necessary in order to monitor and identist any problems that surface.
Eating disorders can have terrible health issues and repercussions on your oral health such as cavities or infections. A dentist can treat the oral issues but they unfortunately cannot treat the underlying cause of the eating disorder. It is also important to note that if your eating disorder progresses, it is likely that nay oral health problems will also continue to progress too.
If you or a loved one are suffering from an eating disorder, it is imperative that you team up with your dental professional and your doctor to help you treat both any symptoms and underlying causes that you are experiencing.
The blog post is in no way intended to diagnose or treat an eating disorder and is not a substitute for a medical or professional diagnosis.