Eating disorders are a serious group of mental health disorders that have an impact on how you feel about food, your body, and yourself. It can affect anyone regardless of age, gender, race, and sexual orientation. The National Initiative for Eating Disorders (NIED) reported that about 1 million Canadians suffer from an eating disorder. Also, other reports claim that an increasing number of Canadian teens are engaging in poor dieting behaviour, which increases their risk of developing an eating disorder.
Unfortunately, many may not realize the damaging effects it has on dental health. While you can easily hide an eating disorder from family or friends, the dental problems it presents will tell your dentist.
Types of Eating Disorders
Our dietary habits play an important role in our dental health. Your mouth can undergo significant changes if you have an eating disorder. Harmful eating habits and nutritional deficiency can lead to severe and damaging effects on one’s teeth and mouth.
Below are the most common types of eating disorders:
- Anorexia Nervosa – People with anorexia nervosa have a fear of gaining weight, even if they are severely underweight. The majority of anorexic individuals tend to starve themselves and exercise excessively to maintain what they think is their perfect body weight.
- Bulimia – This type of eating disorder is often referred to as “binging and purging.” Like anorexics, people with bulimia also fear gaining weight. People with bulimia may binge-eat large quantities of food by gulping down thousands of calories and fats greater than the average person can eat at one sitting. They try to compensate for the act by engaging in purging behaviour, such as throwing up, taking laxatives or diuretics, fasting, or exercising excessively.
- Binge-Eating or Compulsive Overeating – Like the other eating disorders mentioned above, people with this type of eating disorder are likely to consume a large amount of food, but unlike people with anorexia or bulimia, binge-eaters do not try to engage in purging behaviours. Binge-eaters tend to lose control over what or how much they can eat during an episode. They also eat more rapidly than normal even if they are not physically hungry or until they feel uncomfortably full.
Dental Complications of Eating Disorder
The unpleasant effects of an eating disorder may linger for a while or even result in permanent mouth and teeth problems.
Here are the other dental issues associated with eating disorders:
- Frequent vomiting can cause serious damage to your oral health. Vomit contains stomach acids that are corrosive enough to dissolve the enamel that covers and protects your teeth. Over time, the teeth become brittle, weak and translucent. Its colour, size, and shape change. When the teeth lose their enamel, it causes sensitivity, making it uncomfortable to consume hot or cold foods or beverages. Also, when the teeth edges are too thin, it can easily break off and expose the pulp. This causes discolouration, infections, and eventually pulp death. Extensive brushing can also aggravate enamel erosion, which leads to tooth decay.
- The lack of nutrition can cause gum discolouration and bleeding, as well as swelling of the salivary glands. Swollen salivary glands produce less amount of saliva, which may result in chronic dry mouth.
- Limiting your food intake can result in nutritional deficiency. Calcium, iron, and B vitamins are essential nutrients that promote oral health. When your body does not receive sufficient calcium, the risk of tooth decay and gum disease is high. However, even if you take enough calcium, your body still requires vitamin D to absorb it. Insufficient iron can also increase your risk of mouth sores while low levels of vitamin B3 (niacin) can cause bad breath and canker sores.
- Individuals with eating disorders could also face the risk of developing degenerative arthritis within the temporomandibular joint in the jaw. As a result, it causes joint pain, chewing difficulty, chronic headaches, and problems opening or closing the mouth.
- Frequent purging can cause scratches, redness, and cuts inside your mouth, especially on soft palates. This can be a warning sign of an eating disorder because healthy behaviour rarely causes harm to this area.
- The stomach acids present in the vomit can cause salivary glands irritation. In addition to helping you swallow, the saliva also helps wash away the harmful bacteria and neutralize the acid in your mouth, protecting you from tooth decay. However, irritated salivary glands produce less saliva to protect your teeth from acids and bacteria.
- Stomach acids do not only erode the enamel but also wear away the skin on the roof and sides of your mouth. This causes painful mouth and throat sores. If untreated, these sores become swollen and even infected.
Treating the Effects of Eating Disorder
Having the right knowledge and receiving proper guidance from your oral health care provider can help you control and prevent damaged teeth and mouth. Intervention by family, friends, or loved ones can help people with eating disorders to seek medical and dental help. Early detection is crucial for smooth and successful recovery of the body, as well as dental health. Eating disorder patients should maintain proper oral health care, as well as a regular dental checkup. It is also important that patients should find a dental clinic that offers them a safe place where they can disclose their struggles and progress towards recovery.
Patients who still engage in purging even when undergoing treatment should be honest with their dentist about their behaviours. The dentist recommends patients to rinse their mouth with water immediately after purging. Wait for an hour before brushing the teeth to avoid scrubbing the gastric acids deeper into the teeth enamel. The dentist may also recommend using fluoride rinses, as well as desensitizing or remineralizing agents.
Our warm and friendly team is committed to providing you with comprehensive dental care services in a comfortable and relaxed setting in our dental clinic in Guelph. Call us today at (519) 767-6453, and we will happily assist your dental needs in every way we can.