Eating disorders are a serious health concern. The National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) estimates that nearly 10 million women and 1 million men in the United States suffer from bulimia and anorexia. Eating disorders are serious conditions that are damaging to all systems of the body. Anorexia has the highest premature mortality rate of any psychological disorder. Successful recovery depends on stopping the disorder early, before severe damage occurs.

Dentists are often the first medical professionals to detect the physical signs of eating disorders. Bulimia, one of the most common eating disorders, is characterized by periods of binge eating followed by purging, normal eating followed by purging, or avoidance of eating to prevent weight gain. These disorders rob the body of vital nutrition, and expose the throat, teeth, and gums to more stomach acid than they are able to withstand.

Damage in the Mouth

Close up photo of a woman smilingTeeth are built strong to be tools for eating, but were never designed to stand up to a constant barrage of stomach acid. A purging bulimic can begin to dissolve their tooth enamel within six months from constant exposure to acid. The dentin layer beneath is not as strong as the enamel, and is more sensitive. Patients will experience temperature sensitivity, and may also find that brushing their teeth is uncomfortable or painful.

The dentin layer is also more susceptible to decay. It’s also an unattractive yellowy color. During periods of binging, sufferers of eating disorders typically consume excessive amounts of sugary foods and acidic beverages such as soda. Without the protective enamel layer, teeth are more susceptible to decay caused by these sugary foods, and cavities develop. The stomach acid will also continue to damage the structure of the tooth, often wearing teeth away from the top down. If the condition continues over the course of a few years, teeth will appear stained and misshapen.

The soft tissues in the mouth are also damaged by eating disorders. Sores may form from exposure to stomach acid, increasing the risk of infection. Gum tissue will also be damaged by stomach acid and may become inflamed. With these disorders, gingival disease often begins prematurely regardless of oral hygiene habits. Painful lesions can form on the gums as well. The gum line may also recede, exposing the tooth down to the root in severe cases. The tooth root is even more susceptible to acid damage and decay, making tooth loss more likely.

In cases where food avoidance is the problem, teeth can become weak because they are not getting the needed nutrition. Gum tissue may also suffer from malnutrition, leading to early gingival disease, receding gum lines, and tooth loss.

Treating the Damage

When a person is on the road to recovery from an eating disorder, it is important to fix the physical damage done by the disease. Oral health can be restored using a number of dental procedures depending on the existing damage. Teeth with cavities can be filled with white fillings to protect them from further decay. If any teeth are damaged too badly for a filling to help, or the enamel has been stripped away so badly that the tooth is at risk of further decay, crowns may be placed to protect the tooth. Any lost teeth can likely be replaced with implants to restore the aesthetics of the smile and keep other teeth from moving in to fill the space.

Recovery is a group effort. If you or a loved one are on the road to recovery and have tooth damage, please call our Orlando cosmetic dentist, Dr. Michael L. Weinstock at (407) 834-6446 to set up an appointment with today.