Dentists May Be First to Notice Eating Disorders

Eating disorders have a noticeable effect on teeth, gums and other parts of the dentist’s domain (the mouth). So it’s not surprising that a person’s dentist may be the first to spot the telltale signs of eating disorders such as anorexia, bulimia and binge-eating disorder.

Even parents may not notice that their child is a victim of such a condition. But dentists, in the course of their work, can easily flag the bad breath, sensitive teeth and eroded tooth enamel that are giveaways for the presence of the disorders. Other indications include worn teeth that seem almost translucent, bleeding gums, mouth sores, dry mouth, cracked lips and tender mouth, throat and salivary glands.

“Eating disorders have serious implications for oral health and overall health,” said dentist Max Anderson. “Stomach acids can damage teeth with repeated exposures during purging for those individuals with bulimia nervosa. For those with anorexia nervosa, which is characterized by self-induced starvation, poor nutrition can affect oral health by increasing the risk for periodontal [gum] diseases.”

An eating disorder is an irresistible compulsion to eat (binge eating), to eat and purge (bulimia), to avoid eating (anorexia) or to eat bizarre non-foods such as dirt, clay or chalk. Bulimics may also purge using laxatives, fasting, diuretics or diet pills. Each condition has complex psychological causes, and effects that are injurious to body and mind. They rob the body of vital minerals, vitamins and proteins, and may damage teeth, muscles and major organs.

It’s estimated that as many as 35 million American men, women and children suffer from the conditions. Studies have found, according to the National Eating Disorders Association, that 89 percent of bulimic patients suffer from tooth erosion, due to the effects of stomach acid. As loss of tooth enamel progresses, teeth change color, shape, and length.


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