Eating disorders have dramatically increased in Canada over the past few years. According to the National Eating Disorder Information Centre (NEDIC), about 1,000,000 Canadians are diagnosed with an eating disorder (anorexia, bulimia, and binge eating) each year.
An eating disorder classifies as a serious mental condition that involves abnormal eating behaviour. This can range from limiting food intake (anorexia), compulsive eating (binge eating), to binging and purging food (bulimia). These eating habits can have cause significant damage to the physical, mental, and oral health.
Dental Complications of Eating Disorders
- Nutritional deficiency increases the risk of gingivitis or bleeding gums, swollen salivary glands, and chronic dry mouth. Food restriction can lead to a deficiency in calcium, iron, and B vitamins. Insufficient calcium leads to tooth decay and periodontal disease. Iron deficiency can lead to an elevated risk of lesions in the mouth, while lack of B vitamins contribute to halitosis and canker sores.
- Frequent vomiting could result in enamel erosion, discolouration, and tooth decay due to persistent contact with stomach acids. This can also alter the natural length and shape of the teeth, making the teeth brittle, weak, and translucent in colour. Tissue loss and lesions may occur on the surface of the mouth.
- A serious complication known as degenerative arthritis can occur in the temporomandibular joint in the jaw. This can create intense pain in the affected joint area, chronic headaches, and complications related to chewing, opening, and closing the mouth.
- Purging can create scratches and cuts on the surface of the soft palate. Frequent binge-and-purge cycles can result in enlarged salivary glands, which may cause extreme discomfort and distress.
Treating the Dental Effects of Eating Disorders
- Maintain excellent oral health by brushing the teeth twice a day and flossing after each meal. Visit the dentist regularly every six months for a professional dental examination. The confidential relationship between dentist and patient creates a safe atmosphere within the dental office. This may encourage patients to disclose ED struggles and begin their road to recovery.
- Purging patients should rinse their mouths with water immediately after purging to wash away remaining acids. Wait about an hour before brushing the teeth to prevent scrubbing the acid deeper into the tooth enamel.
- Vomiting and poor nutrition cause dry mouth. Moisturize the mouth with water and use professionally prescribed products to combat potential tooth decay.
- Use fluoride rinses and other remineralizing agents to prevent tooth enamel erosion.
Dentists do not treat eating disorders, but they can keep your oral health in check. If you or a family member is suffering from dental complications as a result of an eating disorder, seek professional help immediately.