Eating disorders and your oral health

The holiday season is upon us. For some, taking a break from eating healthy is not an issue. However, for others it can be challenging, especially if you suffer from an eating disorder.

Eating disorders come in many forms. In this blog, I will explore the common types of eating disorders and how it can affect your oral health. Need a caring, family dentist sensitive to your needs? Call Riverstone Family Dental on 8678 3538.

What are eating disorders?

An eating disorder is a mental condition that negatively affects a person’s eating behaviours. There are three common types of eating disorders:

  1. anorexia nervosa
  2. bulimia nervosa
  3. binge eating disorder

Anorexia Nervosa

This is a potentially life-threatening eating disorder. A sufferer may start becoming dangerously underweight. And despite this, may see themself as being overweight. This thought pattern causes you to then use bad eating behaviours to control the weight. This can be through repetitive weight checking and extreme food restriction. In some cases, sufferers resort to suicide or starvation.

Common symptoms include being very thin, wanting to be extremely thin, fear of gaining weight and denial of being dangerously underweight. Over a period of time, osteoporosis, low iron, constipation, low blood pressure, fatigue and infertility can result.

Bulimia Nervosa

Unlike anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa is characterised by an uncontrollable urge to eat large amounts of food all at once. Like anorexia nervosa, there is a fear of gaining weight. Once sufferers have over-eaten, vomiting is induced to stop weight gain. Other techniques used include extreme fasting, excessive laxative intake, or excessive exercise.

Common symptoms include gastrointestinal problems including constipation and reflux, dehydration, electrolyte imbalances, inflamed and sore throat, swollen salivary glands in the neck and jaw.

Binge Eating Disorder

Unlike bulimia nervosa, binge eating is not followed by vomiting. This means it is easier to gain weight, resulting in obesity or being overweight.

The most common symptom is eating large amounts of food quickly and often alone to avoid embarrassment. This may be when the sufferer is not hungry or until they become uncomfortably full. Other symptoms include feeling guilty about eating and on and off dieting.

How eating disorders sabotage your oral health

You have probably heard this a number of times: our dietary habits have a direct effect on our oral health. Eating disorders are characterised by abnormal eating behaviours and nutritional deficiencies and this can have severe effects on your dental health.

If you have anorexia nervosa, you may notice bleeding gums, ulcers from nutritional deficiencies or a very dry mouth. Other signs of nutrient deficiencies (for example, calcium, iron, vitamin B) are:

  • tooth decay
  • gum disease from insufficient calcium
  • mouth sores insufficient iron
  • bad breath from insufficient vitamin B3
  • dry mouth and cracked lips from dehydration

In anorexia nervosa, the biggest dental-related problem stems from being deficient in nutrients. On the other hand, bulimia nervosa has dental ramifications from vomiting and purging. Strong stomach acids with a ph level of 1.5 to 3.5 can severely affect your teeth enamel. These acids are released from frequent vomiting and can cause breakdown of the external surface of your teeth. This surface (teeth enamel) once gone, cannot be replaced. Without enamel, your teeth become brittle, weak and even change in colour and shape. Further to this, when you eat hot or cold food, you will feel pain and sensitivity without the protection of strong enamel.

Other effects include: mouth ulcers, weakening and thinning of the edges of the teeth especially the upper front teeth, increase in decay due to vomiting (in binge eating disorder this is seen due to a large intake of sugar and carbonated drinks), enlarged salivary glands, cuts and scratches inside the mouth, especially the back of the throat.

How to care for your teeth

Stopping the above eating habits is the best way to avoid dental problems. However, this can take a lot of time, patience and persistence. It is important you seek help through your doctor or places like Headspace. During your process of healing, here are some oral health care tips to help you lessen the effects of eating disorders:

  • rinse your mouth with water and/or use sugar free chewing gum after vomiting
  • avoid tooth brushing for an 30-60 minutes after vomiting so stomach acids do not scrub deeper into your tooth enamel
  • if you have teeth sensitivity, switch to an anti-sensitivity toothpaste
  • if you suffer from dry mouth, increase your water intake and try using a dry mouth mouthwash or spray
  • brush your teeth twice a day, every morning and every night for 2 minutes using a soft toothbrush
  • floss your teeth once a day
  • see your dentist every 6 months for a check up and clean

I hope you have found this blog helpful. If you suffer from or know someone that suffers from eating disorders, it is very important that you/they keep on top of your/their oral health. If you need a local, friendly dentist, give Riverstone Family Dental a call on 8678 3538.

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