- Anorexia and bulimia are serious eating disorders.
- Both conditions have serious implications for your oral health.
- A dentist can be part of a team of health professionals treating a patient with an eating disorder.
Eating disorders are complex mental illnesses. They affect the way a person eats and thinks about food. The two most common disorders are:
- Anorexia nervosa. This illness involves an extreme fear of gaining weight or becoming fat. People with anorexia will eat very little on purpose or will fast or exercise too much to lose weight.
- Bulimia nervosa, like anorexia, also involves the fear of being overweight. It also includes hidden episodes of overeating (binging) followed by behaviours to make up for eating too much. People with bulimia will make themselves throw up (purging). They may also fast or eat very little food.
Eating disorders have a negative impact on an individual’s health and quality of life. They can also affect a person’s oral health.
- Your body isn’t getting the minerals, vitamins, and other nutrients it needs to maintain good dental health.
- Swollen glands can lead to a reduced flow of saliva (dry mouth). This increases the risk of cavities, tooth decay and other oral infections. Certain medications used to treat eating disorders can also affect the production of saliva.
- Frequent vomiting coats the teeth with stomach acid which will eat away at the enamel. Frequent, vigorous brushing and rinsing after purging can also contribute to tooth erosion. The colour and shape of your teeth can change as well. The edges can become thin and chip away. Tooth erosion can lead to dental sensitivity.
- Patients with eating disorders tend to have poor dental hygiene practices. This can lead to increased plaque buildup and inflammation of the gums, known as gingivitis.
How Your Dentist Can Help
Treating an eating disorder requires a team of health-care professionals, including a dentist. In fact, a dentist may be the first to recognize and address an eating disorder. They would notice signs such as tooth erosion, a lack of oral hygiene and frequently missed appointments.
As part of the treatment, a dentist will make a plan that meets your specific needs. This may include:
- Instruction on proper oral care
- Restorative dentistry
- Management of dry mouth
- Reducing teeth sensitivity
- Nutrition guidance
- Frequent dental hygiene appointments
Help is out there
If you or someone you know has an eating disorder, you can find more information and help from the National Eating Disorder Information Centre.