Eating Disorders Take a Toll on Oral Health

An estimated 10 million Americans are currently dealing with serious eating disorders, a large number of which are women and teenagers. Eating disorders are characterized by a compulsion to eat in a way that disrupts physical and mental health. The most common eating disorders are anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa.  People afflicted with bulimia may experience periods of excessive eating followed by purging, periods of normal eating followed by purging, and self-induced starvation.

Eating disorders prevent the body from getting the nutrition that it needs. In disorders that involve purging, acid from the stomach also does a great deal of damage to the esophagus and oral health. These conditions can lead to other serious health complications such as heart disease or liver failure, often resulting in death. Some of the first health complications associated with these disorders begin in the mouth.

Warning Signs in the Mouth

Dentists are often the first medical professionals to detect the signs of eating disorders before severe damage to organs and muscles occurs. In cases of bulimia nervosa, characterized by eating followed by purging, repeated exposure to excessive stomach acid damages teeth and gum tissue. Acid will corrode the protective enamel layer on teeth, leaving teeth vulnerable to decay. A premature onset of gingival disease may also be caused by purging. These are not the only signs that can show dentists if a patient suffers from an eating disorder.

When the enamel is repeatedly damaged by stomach acid, teeth may change color, become more translucent, and even change shape or elongate.  Even without cavities forming, teeth may become sensitive to heat and cold due to a swelling of the dental pulp (nerves and blood vessels encased in every tooth) known as pulpitis. This inflammation may be caused by irritation to the gums related to the constant exposure to stomach acid.  Gums may feel tender, bleed easily, and may develop lesions through which bacteria can enter the jaw. A patient’s lips may also be dry and cracked, and salivary glands may be swollen.

Seeking Help

Seeking help for eating disorders is not easy. The National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) offers a toll-free helpline for people who are struggling to find a way to talk about eating disorders. Family doctors and physicians can also be contacted  before an eating disorder takes a toll on the body.

Treating Damaged Teeth

Beautiful smiling thoughtful woman with curly hair.Seeking help for the eating disorder itself is only half of the battle. Taking care of damage done by the disorder is a crucial step on the road to recovery. Dentists at Park Meadows Dental Care can help patients recovering from eating disorders by working to fix the damage done by purging. Teeth that have been compromised by decay can be protected from further damage through the use of white fillings. In some cases, crowns can be used to protect teeth that have advanced decay or have lost their protective enamel layer. Teeth lost to malnutrition or that are too badly damaged by acid can be replaced with dental implants to prevent neighboring teeth from moving in to fill the space.

Gum tissue damaged by eating disorders should also be tended to. The development of gum disease can lead to tooth loss, and if left untreated, may also lead to bone loss and infection. Gum therapy can help to prevent gingival disease as well as encouraging healing of damaged tissue.

If your oral health has been compromised by an eating disorder, please call 303-759-5652 today for an appointment to assess the best treatment option for you with a Denver dentist at Park Meadows Dental Care.