It may surprise some people that dentists are often the first to notice and address symptoms of a patient’s eating disorder, including a distinctive bad breath, a certain patter of tooth erosion, and overly sensitive teeth. Nearly 35 million American men and women claim to have eating disorders according to AGD Impact’s May 2005 edition, and that number has grown exponentially since then. The harmful routine of over indulging and then purging food from the body, as well as lack of nutrients all equate to bad news for the body.
Some Serious Symptoms
Here are some specific dental problems that arise from eating disorders:
- Excessive dry mouth and swollen saliva glands due to dehydration and acidic erosion.
- Gums, cheek, and other oral tissues become overly sensitive, painful, and bleed easily due to lack of nutrition.
- Vomiting regularly allows stomach acid free reign in your oral cavity. Stomach acid, or gastric acid, is a super concentrated mixture of potassium chloride, sodium chloride, and hydrochloric acid. On the pH scale, stomach acid is usually between 1 and 3, matching up with battery acid. Now imagine battery acid flowing through your mouth each day. Not only is that going to erode your enamel away, but it will also discolor your teeth, create tooth decay, alter the shape and strength of the tooth, tenderize and cut open all the oral tissues, and make eating and drinking more difficult, thereby leading to further malnutrition. Damage to the tongue has also been known to completely alter how a person tastes food, or taking away the sense of taste at all.
- Those with eating disorders often also make the mistake of brushing their teeth immediately after they purge. The stomach acid softens the tooth enamel, making it vulnerable to just about everything. This means that vigorous brushing before the mouth’s pH balances back out can actually further damage the teeth and gums.
- We’ve already mentioned vitamin and mineral deficiency a couple times, but it goes deeper than bleeding gums. Restrictions on diet or not keeping enough food in the body, especially nutrients the oral cavity needs, can break things down much quicker. A lack of calcium revs up tooth decay and progresses gingivitis into gum disease. Shortages in the B vitamins and iron can make breathe unbearable and lead to canker sores. Teeth also demineralize, that is break down from within, when the nutrition is down.
- Bone loss and osteoporosis are commonly diagnosed in conjunction with Anorexia. (Source: dental.washingtong.edu)
- Another major problem with eating disorders surrounds the jaw joint. Constantly opening the mouth wide to purge can lead to degenerative arthritis in the temporomandibular joint, making the connection between skull and lower jaw painful, chewing and talking more difficult, and causes migraines. (Source: NationalEatingDisorders.org )
There is Help and Healing
A dentist is not required to force help upon a patient that is currently dealing with an eating disorder, but there are many facets of a treatment plan for anyone whose mouth has suffered from the effects of one. Remineralization and fluoride treatments will help to rebuild teeth, jaw, and enamel and strengthen the teeth again. A strict water drinking routine or regulations on amount can help re-hydrate and heal the mouth, as well as antiseptic mouth washes to heal oral tissues and remove bacteria that have taken over the mouth. For more serious cases with long standing damage, more extreme dental treatment may be needed. Cosmetic whitening or veneers can cover up discoloration, and fillings or crowns can replace teeth too far damaged to heal.
If you need help recovering from an eating disorder, it’s vital to have a doctor and dentist and possibly a counselor rooting you and your head to toe health back on track. If you need help or know someone that does, don’t be afraid to ask.