Eating disorders can have a devastating effect on individuals and families, leading to a range of health problems and even death. What many people don’t realize, though, is that while eating disorders take an enormous toll on the body overall, they also have a big impact on teeth and can cause significant damage to oral health. As part of a patient’s recovery, regaining a healthy smile can play an important role. Your dentist can be a crucial partner in restoring self-esteem and confidence during this time.
What are Eating Disorders and How Do They Impact Oral Health?
The term eating disorder covers a range of psychological disorders related to abnormal eating habits. In many cases, they result from a skewed body image and cause those affected to take extreme steps to lose weight – like starving and purging. Two of the most common eating disorders are anorexia nervosa and bulimia.
Anorexia nervosa is defined as an intense, irrational fear of weight gain, and according to the American Dental Association (ADA), it has the highest rate of death from physiological causes of any psychiatric disorder.
Starvation related to anorexia causes a range of nutritional deficiencies, and the mouth is one of the first places these deficiencies become noticeable. Lack of calcium and vitamin D often cause weakening of the teeth, and in some cases, the teeth take on a translucent quality. Deficiencies in other vitamins like niacin can cause mouth sores, bleeding gums, and bad breath.
Bulimia is characterized by periods of binge eating followed by purging through vomiting or abuse of laxatives. According to the ADA, this eating disorder is heavily linked to tooth enamel erosion. Frequent vomiting causes stomach acid to come in contact with the teeth and leads to the destruction of protective enamel, making teeth more likely to decay. Bulimia is also associated with teeth grinding, which can damage teeth and lead to jaw pain.
Other Side Effects
In cases of both anorexia and bulimia, patients often experience a dry mouth and lips because of dehydration. Patients with both disorders may also suffer from swollen salivary glands due to nutritional deficiencies or repeated vomiting. This symptom is usually physically visible, causing a noticeable swelling near the cheeks.
Eating Disorders: Your Dentist Can Help
In some cases, changes to oral health may be the first sign of an eating disorder. Parents who suspect their children may have an eating disorder should talk with their dentist to see if there are any early warning signs.
Your dentist can be a valuable partner during and after the recovery process. Encouraging patients to regain good dental health and a healthy smile is an important part of recovery and restoring self-esteem. Your dentist can also help stress the value of good dental care while the patient is back on the road to health.
Dental Care While Recovering from an Eating Disorder
As patients recover from an eating disorder, there are a few practices that can help them protect their teeth. It’s important that patients remember to not brush after purging, as this can cause more damage to enamel. Instead, the ADA recommends rinsing with baking soda after exposure to stomach acid to counteract acidic effects. Brushing with a gentle toothpaste and flossing are still essential, though. In some cases, your dentist may recommend a night guard to prevent wear and stress related to grinding.
Restoration Following an Eating Disorder
When a patient has recovered from an eating disorder, the dentist can begin the process of restoring their teeth based on the specific damage done.
Restoration work can include crowns, veneers, root canal therapy, and dental implants. In some instances, full mouth reconstruction may be necessary, which means replacing and rebuilding all the teeth in the mouth using a combination of techniques – like implants, bridges, and crowns.
For patients recovering from eating disorders, your dentist’s office is a judgment-free zone. Your dentist wants you to get healthy – and stay that way. In cooperation with your doctors and therapists, we can help restore damaged teeth and establish a program to keep your smile beautiful for years to come.