How Eating Disorders Affect Dental Health

It’s National Eating Disorder Awareness Week, and we would like to contribute by raising awareness to how much eating disorders affect your dental health.

A recently published study by researchers from the Institute of Clinical Dentistry at the University of Bergen (Norway) examined exactly this topic. The study revealed that those with eating disorders are two to three times more likely to suffer from dental health problems than other patients. The most prevalent health issue was dental erosion, where the teeth enamel will actually wear away to expose the dentinal layers underneath. Thirty-six percent of patients from the eating disorder group suffered from dentinal exposure, whereas only 11 percent of the control group patients were afflicted.

Dental erosion will cause teeth sensitivity and lead to future expensive dental procedures, cosmetic and otherwise–including implants, partials, and veneers. While it may be easier to see bulimia being the cause of dental erosion from the gastric acid, anemia can also cause it. The starvation and dehydration that accompanies anemia causes dryness of the lips and parotid-gland enlargement, which in turn causes hypo-salivation. With hypo-salivation, the salivary glands in your mouth produce less saliva, making it far more difficult for food to be processed when it is consumed, thus allowing the food to chip and scratch away at the enamel.

The study also found that those with eating disorders were far more vigorous with brushing and flossing their teeth. One the one hand, such practices greatly reduced their visible plaque and gingival bleeding indexes. On the other hand, extreme toothbrushing also causes gum recession, which can lead to needing gum graft surgery.

Many people who suffer from eating disorders believe that because they don’t eat or they brush their teeth often means that they will not have dental problems. In fact, for a large number of them, the opposite is true. The study even found that these patients reported dental problems on a daily basis. The patients thought that the problems were due to something else, such as genetics or previous injuries, but for each one, the problems were linked to side effects from their eating disorders.

If you know someone with an eating disorder, please urge them to get help, either with their doctor or with a counselor. They are very serious conditions that often get overlooked by peers, doctors, and dentists alike.

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