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Eating Disorders and Dental Health

709e54_be6dde3ca4a54549af056c8b86ed3b9eEating disorders affect tens of millions of people around the world and it is estimated to affect around 1 million Australians.  Although the most common disorders of bulimia nervosa, anorexia nervosa and binge eating are usually associated with adolescent women, anyone can suffer from these conditions.  People suffering from eating disorders often concurrently suffer mental disorders including low self-esteem, anxiety and depression.  In addition to the associated psychological struggles, eating disorders can cause physical issues including heart conditions and kidney failure which in turn can result in death.

Some of the first physical symptoms of eating disorders appear in the mouth as manifestations of acid erosion (from vomiting/bulimia), frequent sugar intake (binge eating/bulimia) and nutritional deficiency.

Some examples of dental issues caused are:

  • Dental cosmetic issues are caused by acid erosion of teeth
  • Tooth sensitivity may be caused by acid erosion of teeth
  • Skin lesions, typically at the corner of the mouth
  • Osteoporosis affecting the jaw bones and jaw joints
  • Bad breath
  • Dry mouth

Although dentists are not qualified to treat the underlying psychological issues generally associated with eating disorders, they are able to help manage the dental manifestations by treating symptoms and educating patients on minimisation of the oral effects of the disorder.

Examples of dental management includes:

  • Having a diligent daily oral health care routine
  • Rinsing with baking soda after vomiting
  • Avoiding brushing immediately after vomiting
  • Using high concentration fluoride or other medicaments
  • Using saliva substitutes in cases of dry mouth

Should you or anyone close to you suffer from an eating disorder, please inform your doctor and dentist so appropriate management can be commenced.