Eating disorders affect some 30 million people across the U.S. today, and they can be the cause of serious health issues including dental problems.
When it comes to recovery, early detection and management of eating disorders are crucial for overall mental and physical well-being. But if there’s been damage to the teeth, it’s possible to see a cosmetic dentist to improve the function and appearance of the mouth.
Here’s some more information about eating disorders and dental health.
How Eating Disorders Can Affect the Mouth
Harmful habits like the regurgitation of food can cause immediate and severely damaging problems because stomach acid hits the teeth frequently and directly, causing enamel to wear.
But beyond that, malnutrition itself, as happens in anorexia, may cause gum deterioration, swelling of the salivary glands, and dry mouth.
Nutrients required for proper oral health are readily available in many foods, and we don’t typically need supplements to ensure that we have proper mouth health. However, if you have a significant deficiency in nutrients like iron, B vitamins, and calcium, this can cause problems.
A lack of iron and B3 can lead to mouth sores. And gingivitis, in general, can be more severe in those with eating disorders simply because of dehydration and various nutritional deficiencies.
Symptoms of Dental Problems from Eating Disorders
Gum disease is common and not always indicative of an eating disorder. However, when the gums are extremely swollen, the mouth is dry (leading to bad breath), and lips are cracked, these are likely indications that something is wrong.
Also, regular vomiting can cause staining and wear on the teeth, where they tend to get weak, brittle, and remarkably sensitive. This repetitive behavior can cause lesions on the mouth and even broken teeth.
And one thing that may not seem so obvious is that if people are vigorously brushing their teeth immediately after vomiting, they can aggravate this decay because the acid is being brushed around through the mouth.People with eating disorders are also more prone to jaw arthritis, which typically comes up around the joint of the jaw and is characterized by difficulty chewing and headaches.
People with eating disorders can protect their oral health by visiting their dentist regularly and ensuring proper oral care.
But perhaps more importantly, it’s crucial that those struggling with eating disorders feel emotionally safe enough with their dentist to disclose details about their disease so that the dentist can help treat them properly and encourage recovery.
If a patient is not yet in recovery, it is suggested to use a sugar-free mouthwash or even plain water instead of brushing after vomiting to prevent further acid wear. Flushing the mouth frequently with water will also help with dry mouth. Fluoride and desensitizing solutions are also available to help reduce overall pain and sensitivity in the mouth.
If you have had your dental health disrupted by an eating disorder, it’s essential to see a dentist to have regular checkups and to recommend further work by a cosmetic dentist if necessary.