Save Your Teeth. Feed Your Body.
There are estimates that approximately 10 million Americans suffer from an eating disorder. These include anorexia, bulimia, and binge eating. Eating disorders have a negative impact on a person struggling with them from a variety of directions: low self-esteem, relationships, depression, jobs, and of course, health. These problems come to mind immediately, but sometimes we overlook how eating disorders affect dental health. As we are continually learning, dental health affects our body more than we had previously realized in the past.
Three Kinds Of Eating Disorders
Anorexia is an intense fear of gaining weight, and those who suffer from it may starve themselves and exercise excessively. Even those who are overly thin may see themselves as fat. Some may overeat on occasion, and attempt to get control back by purging (throwing up) or abusing laxatives.
Bulimia is also a fear of gaining weight, but those who suffer from it frequently have intense periods of over-eating where they are completely out of control while consuming massive amounts of calories. In order to balance these binging sessions, bulimics purge, similar to what was described above.
Binge eating is a bit different. While similar to the way a bulimic has uncontrollable bouts with massive food consumption, the binge eater doesn’t purge. Instead he or she struggles with guilt over the inability to control food consumption.
The Effects On Overal Health
Eating disorders have a devastating effect on the body, particularly if the person has the disorder for an extended period of time.
At their worst, eating disorders rob the body of the nutrition it needs to function, which show up as hair loss, hormonal imbalance, inability to regulate body temperature, and constipation, to name just a few. As the eating disorder progresses, damage to the heart and kidneys can occur.
Effects On Oral Health
When our body does not receive the proper nutrition, our gums and the other soft tissue in the mouth is more likely to bleed. Lack of nutrition can also lead to osteoporosis, which weakens the bones in the jaw and leads to tooth loss.
Eating disorders may also lead to swelling of the glands that produce saliva, and chronic dry mouth may occur. This is problematic because saliva moistens and cleans our mouth, helps in digesting food, and prevents infection by controlling the bacteria in the mouth.
Constant purging is destructive to the enamel on our teeth much in the same way as gastric reflux. The acid from our stomach wears at the enamel, causing teeth to change in color, shape, and length. The teeth may appear almost translucent. This enamel loss also makes the edges of teeth thinner, causing them to easily break. Consuming hot or cold food and drinks might be painful, as teeth with poor enamel become sensitive.
Spotting And Treating Eating Disorders
Those who suffer from an eating disorder may not find the help they need on their own, so it is important that family and friends become an integral part in their lives and encourage them to seek help for the emotional issues that trigger the problem, and the ensuing health issues that may have occurred.
Parents might not always be aware their child suffers from an eating disorder, but they are likely taking their child to the dentist on a regular basis. Dentists can tell by bad breath, sensitive teeth and tooth erosion if a patient suffers from an eating disorder. They can help the patient understand what steps to take to protect oral health, and encourage help to be sought. In some severe cases, cosmetic dentistry may be used to restore tooth damage to a former sufferer of an eating disorder.