Effects of Eating Disorders on Oral Health

Woman covering her mouth

Eating disorders occur when people become fixated on their eating habits, eating less to fulfill some personal eating goals and indirectly fulfilling societal expectations about what the perfect body should look like. However, this is just the basic reasoning behind eating disorders.

There are many psychological, emotional and mental reasons behind why eating disorders occur. Some people eat more or less because of loneliness, stress, anger, anxiety and depression. Feeling of being inadequate and lack of confidence and self esteem can also cause to eating disorders. The two most common eating disorders are Anorexia and Bulimia.

Here are the harmful effects of eating disorders on oral health:

Lesions On Teeth – Both anorexia and bulimia can involve vomiting food voluntarily. In fact, 89% patients suffering from eating disorders suffer from tooth erosion because of regurgitation. While throwing up, acid from the stomach comes into contact with teeth and this can cause loss of tissue. It can also lead to lesions being formed on the teeth’s surface. The problem can be noticed 6 months after the eating disorder has started.

Changes In the Physical Appearance Of Teeth – The length, shape and color of teeth can look different from before and these changes mostly occur due to acid contact. Teeth can also look translucent and brittle because they have become weak. The weakness not only occurs due to frequent vomiting but also because the body is not getting the necessary nutrients. Apart from becoming extremely thin, different areas of the body are depleted because of lack of strength and nutrients.

Temperature Sensitivity – Some patients suffering from eating disorders can experience some amount of temperature sensitivity. In certain cases, this sensitivity can lead to the pulp of the teeth getting exposed and dying. At other times, the pulp can get infected due to constant exposure and might look discolored.

Dryness of Mouth and Lips – Due to puking and retching, some signs of damage can be seen in the patient’s mouth and lips. The mouth becomes overly dry and the lips look cracked, red and dry as well. Salivary glands can also become enlarged in patients.

General Tooth Decay – Apart from the tooth decay that occurs because of vomiting, the post-vomiting care of certain patients can also damage the teeth and teeth enamel. After vomiting, patients rinse their mouth frequently and also brush their teeth quickly and vigorously to remove any taste and smell of puke. The harsh action of the brush and constant brushing can strip the tooth enamel and cause long term dental problems for the patient.

Teeth Pain – One or multiple teeth can suddenly start aching without any previous warning.

Other Dental Problems – Other dental problems affecting patients with eating disorders include bleeding gums, pain in gums, chronic sore throat, tenderness in the salivary glands, throat and mouth, palatal hemorrhages, issues in swallowing food, abnormality in jaw alignment and mouth sores.

In order to improve dental health, dentists recommend that patients should use fluoridated toothpaste and floss regularly. Also, teeth should not be brushed right after vomiting because the enamel is weak due to stomach acids. Instead, a mouth rinse with fluoride should be used for gently rinsing the mouth.

Nadia Kiderman DDS is a oral health specialist from New York.

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