Eating disorders are dangerous psychological conditions in which one’s negative feelings, often about their bodies or food, affects their eating behavior. A person with an eating disorder may eat too little food or they may have sessions where they overeat and then purge or eliminate what has been eaten. At other times, some people with eating disorders may eat too much. These abnormal eating behaviors can create a host of severe health problems, including oral ones. While the state of the mouth may not be the first thing that comes to mind when one hears the term eating disorder, it is very important that people are aware of the risks.
Each of these eating behaviors represents a different type of disorder. Bulimia nervosa, binge eating disorder, and anorexia nervosa are likely the most recognized and common. Often, people with eating disorders will ultimately develop severe and, depending on how long the problem continues, permanent oral damage. One common reason why people with eating disorders experience problems with their teeth and gums is their inability to get proper nutrition as they are either not consuming enough food as is the case with anorexia, or they are eating the wrong kinds of foods and are potentially purging. When people do not get the nutrients that they require they may develop certain problems such as xerostomia, which is commonly referred to as dry mouth, and their gums may become swollen as gingivitis becomes a real threat. Additionally, lack of good nutrition can also be one of the causes of bad breath if there is a lack of niacin in one’s diet. As eating disorders can prevent an individual from getting enough vitamin D and calcium, one’s risk and susceptibility to tooth decay also increase.
When a person who has bulimia, for example, purges the food that they’ve eaten it creates a specific set of problems in the mouth. Vomiting is one of the ways purging is done, either manually with a finger down the throat or by taking something that will cause one to throw up. Because this occurs frequently, manual manipulation may injure or bruise the soft tissues in the mouth. Salivary glands may become swollen and a source of pain as a result of routine purging. These glands may even become so enlarged that they are visible to others. One may also suffer from a loss of tissue in their mouth and lesions or sores.
Vomit itself is highly destructive to one’s teeth. When a person vomits, they bringing up acids from the stomach that are corrosive and damaging. The corrosive nature of this acid erodes tooth enamel and makes one’s teeth weak and brittle. People with eating disorders that involve vomiting may also have thinning of their teeth, which may also make them appear translucent. In some, the thinning can be severe around the edges where they may be susceptible to chipping. Decay is another consequence of the stomach acid in vomit that coats the mouth and hits the teeth when it is expelled. Often, even the vigorous attempts to brush one’s teeth after each of the numerous daily vomiting episodes associated with conditions such as bulimia can be problematic in terms of decay.
Individuals with disorders that cause them to overeat, such as binge-eating disorder, do not induce vomiting after eating; however, they do consume large amounts of foods. Often, these foods are high in sugar, are acidic, low in nutrition, or are made with other ingredients that lead to cavities and decaying of the teeth. These items, for example, may include cakes and other sweets or carbonated sodas. Cavities and decay, as they worsen, can eventually lead to tooth discoloration, sensitivity to hot and cold foods and drink, and even infection and tooth loss. In addition to these problems, the various eating disorders may also cause degenerative arthritis of the temporomandibular joint and pain due to teeth that have worn down and may have cracked.
Read more about eating disorders in general and about how they affect one’s oral health by clicking any of the following links.
- Eating Disorders About More Than Just Food
- Signs of An Eating Disorder
- National Eating Disorders Association: Signs and Symptoms
- Eating Disorders: Treatment
- Eating Disorders
- Frequently Asked Questions: Bulimia Nervosa (PDF)
- Medical Reference Guide: Eating Disorders
- Health Information: Eating Disorders
- Eating Disorders and Oral Health (PDF)
- Severe Dental Erosion Linked to Eating Disorders
- Bulimia Nervosa: Signs, Symptoms, Treatment, and Self-Help
- Mouth Healthy: Eating Disorders
- Eating Disorders: Signs of An Eating Disorder
- Warning Signs of Eating Disorders (PDF)
- Eating Disorders: Five Warning Signs
- Deadly Diets: The Warning Signs of Eating Disorders
- Common Health Problems: Eating Disorders
- Eating Disorders Can Hurt Your Teeth
- Eating Disorders: Treatments
- Understanding the Facts: Eating Disorders
- National Institute of Mental Health: Eating Disorders (PDF)
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