Research indicates that as many as 30 million Americans suffer from some type of eating disorder. Unfortunately, eating disorders can cause serious health issues and, in some instances, death. At the same time, they can also lead to dental problems that can persist even after a person gets better. Here’s how eating disorders can affect dental health.
Self-induced vomiting or “purging” can bathe your teeth in corrosive stomach acid. When this occurs, you can experience tooth erosion, discoloration, enamel loss and weakening of the teeth. People who purge are also at a higher risk for soft tissue and soft palate damage. This means they endure damage to the sides of their mouths, gums and the backs of their throats. Purging can also lead to dehydration, which can cause dry, cracked lips. Dehydration can result in dry mouth which drastically increases the risk of serious tooth decay.
Commonly associated with anorexia nervosa, restricted eating can cause extreme nutritional deficiencies that can lead to an array of oral health issues. Our bodies depend on a wide variety of vitamins, minerals and nutrients that work in concert to sustain our oral health. Without sufficient nutrients, you can experience tooth demineralization, decay and gum disease. Iron deficiencies can also lead to open sores inside the mouth, while insufficient vitamin B3 can cause bad breath and canker sores.
Chewing and Spitting
Chewing and spitting disorder (CHSP) describes the practice of chewing food and then spitting it out without swallowing. Swollen glands, tooth decay and cavities are common among people who struggle with this eating disorder. Because they often chew foods that are high in sugar, people with CHSP are prone to tooth rot. The acid produced as the stomach in anticipates food digestion can also lead to ulcers in the stomach and mouth.
Talk to Your Dentist
Because eating disorders tend to leave tell-tale signs inside the mouth, dentists are often the first people to notice that a person is suffering from a problem. According to research, this makes them an important first responder, since they can identify unique red flags in the soft palate and teeth that may go unnoticed by other health professionals.
If your dentist brings up the possibility of disordered eating when addressing an oral health problem, try to be honest and ask for support. Because they understand that eating disorders are often shrouded in shame, dental professionals are trained to approach any conversation about disordered eating discreetly and compassionately.
Protecting Your Oral Health
The most effective way to prevent damage to your teeth and gums is to stop disordered eating behaviors. Unfortunately, this is not always possible for many people. Until you are able to overcome your disordered eating behavior, it’s important to mitigate harm to your teeth while you are working toward recovery. For instance, you can rinse your mouth with water after purging to wash acids from your teeth. You may also need to take supplements to help preserve your oral and overall health.
Talk to your dentist or physician to learn the best path toward preserving your health and overcoming your disordered eating behaviors.