Eating Disorders Connected to Dental Health

Image: winnond /

It is estimated that as many as 10 million Americans suffer from eating disorders such as bulimia, anorexia and binge eating.

Two of the most common eating disorders include anorexia nervosa, a condition where those who are intensely fearful of gaining weight literally starve themselves to death. Bulimia nervosa is a destructive pattern of binge eating followed by vomiting or purging behaviors to expel food and keep from gaining weight. While these disorders can affect anyone, they are more common in teenage and young adult women.

The Consequences of Eating Disorders

Eating disorders can have a very negative impact on quality of life.  Self esteem and relationships with family and friends often suffer.  School and job performance are usually damaged.  In addition, people will suffer from physical health complications such as heart conditions and kidney failure, which can lead to death.

Eating disorders rob the body of nutrients essential for good health, including vitamins, minerals and proteins.  Patients present with a variety of symptoms including dramatic weight loss, loss of hair, constantly feeling cold and constipation.  Also common are dry and cracked lips and sores in the mouth that bleed easily.

Dental Complications from Eating Disorders

Eating disorders result in severe consequences regarding dental health. Self-induced vomiting leads to the physical erosion of a person’s teeth. Digestive acids that break down food attack teeth during self-induced vomiting, wearing away tooth enamel and changing the color, length and shape of teeth. Anorexia can lead to swollen salivary glands and osteoporosis, which weakens the jaw bone and leads to tooth loss.

Many times dentist are the first to see the symptoms of these eating disorders because it is impossible to hide the damage caused by eating disorders. Symptoms that point to an eating disorder include:

  • Mouth sores
  • Dry, cracked lips
  • Sensitive teeth
  • Dry mouth
  • Bad breath
  • Erosion of tooth enamel
  • Tenderness of the mouth, throat and salivary glands

Often times the pain associated with dental complications are what first cause patients to seek help.

Treating Dental Problems

It is imperative to seek professional help for an eating disorder.

Because of the dramatic consequences of eating disorders on dental health, restorations that include crowns or veneers will most likely be required. However, these tooth restorations won’t be pursued until the person has undergone the necessary treatment to address the underlying issues of the eating disorder.

While getting treatment, brush daily with fluoridated toothpaste and floss to prevent gum disease. A daily fluoride application may be available to help strengthen teeth, and a mouth guard may also be helpful to protect teeth from additional wear.

Although the dental problems can be treated, Dr. Todd Beck of South Waterfront Dental says the first step is getting medical help to treat the underlying eating disorder.  If your dentist suspects you suffer from one of these disorders he or she will be more than happy to help you get proper medical attention… then you can restore your beautiful smile!