Effects of eating disorders on oral health

Eating disorders have become worryingly common and the most common sufferers are teenage girls my age. I am 17 and I have a front-row seat to the pressures the media puts on young girls to look a certain way, this inevitably gives way to eating disorders such as bulimia and anorexia nervosa when girls give in to these pressures to lose weight.Anorexia1

Eating disorders are in itself damaging psychologically and lead to physiological complications but what most don’t realise is that it can also have detrimental effects on your oral health.

Common problems are the development of caries, acid erosion of the enamel and dry mouth.

Anorexia nervosa is the third most common long-term illness amongst teenagers. Sufferers tend to eat very little, exercise excessively or binge followed by self-induced vomiting or even misuse of laxatives.

Therefore they have nutritional deficiencies, which in anorexic patients can lead to loss of teeth and weakening of bones in the jaw. Medications such as dextrose and sucrose drinks contain vitamin C which is also acidic and contributes further to enamel erosion and tooth decay.

Bulimia nervosa is perhaps the most damaging to the teeth as it involves frequent vomiting which is usually self-induced after a ‘binge’. When you vomit highly erosive stomach acid washes over your teeth, and as this continues to happen frequently and over a prolonged period of time, the enamel will wear away. This happens to 89 percent of bulimic patients and can lead to the exposure of dentin, usually causing the teeth to become increasingly sensitive.

Caries teeth decay
Caries teeth decay

Anorexic and bulimic patients almost certainly show signs of their eating disorders on their teeth.

Teeth tend to become brittle, yellow and translucent whilst lesions may form on gums and the mouth and lips dry (chronic dry mouth).

Drying of the mouth known as xerostomia can be caused by vomiting and fasting which decrease saliva production.

This can speed up the process of erosion as there is less saliva to wash away the acid leading to the formation of caries if it isn’t treated.

When there is little saliva production mucous membranes in the mouth become dry and irritated, this can cause discomfort and pain when speaking or eating. Also, due to the decrease in saliva teeth cannot withstand as many acid attacks caused by eating or snacking as healthy teeth can, this further leads to the development of caries.

The consequences of eating disorders on oral health are very significant, in cases such as shown above some cosmetic work will have to be done to restore the individual’s teeth to its natural state as once enamel is gone it does not grow back. Therefore it is imperative that aside from a physician, a dentist is also consulted when someone is suffering from an eating disorder so they can be given advice on how to minimise the damage done to their teeth and allow preventative measures to be taken.

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