Eating Disorders and Dental Health: A Guide for Preservation and Recovery

Eating Disorders and Dental Health: A Guide for Preservation and Recovery
Posted on 04/30/2018

While awareness of eating disorders has grown, they are still a pressing health concern for teenagers and young adults. Children and older adults can also have eating disorders. There are a number of health problems that come from long-term disordered eating, and your teeth can suffer just as much as the rest of your body. 

Bulimia and anorexia nervosa both impact your oral health. While treating and recovering from an eating disorder, you'll need to confer with your dentist about how you can help get your smile back on track. Consider how your teeth can be affected by an eating disorder and what your dentist can do to help you repair the damage. 

Short- and Long-Term Effects

Bulimia causes the most damage to the teeth because the primary characteristic of bulimia is eating large amounts of calorie-dense foods and then purging those foods by vomiting. This behavior affects the teeth by:

  • Softening and eroding the enamel. The increased exposure to acidic stomach contents can quickly erode the enamel. Not only does the acid itself work against your enamel, but once your enamel is softened, it's also more easily eroded by common mouth bacterial activity.
  • Irritating soft gum tissue. Your gums will bleed more easily and they will begin to pull back from the teeth, exposing the vulnerable tooth roots that aren't as well protected by enamel. You can also develop sores on other soft tissues such as on the roof of the mouth and on the cheeks.
  • Staining. Discoloration is a common problem for bulimic patients. 
  • Weakening the teeth. Eventually, even biting a carrot or pretzel can cause breakage and cracks. 

Anorexia also affects your tooth health but in an indirect way. People who avoid food become more and more nutrient deficient. Your body does its best to compensate for the loss of essential vitamins and minerals.

One of those essential nutrients is calcium. Your body stores calcium in the bones and in the teeth. Once you aren't getting calcium from food, your body begins to use calcium from storage. Over time, your bones and teeth become very weak; your jaw bone can actually lose the ability to support your teeth. Tooth loss is the eventual result. 

Preservation 

Continuing in disordered eating behaviors continues to put your teeth at greater risk. Dentists can often spot problems caused by eating disorders, and they might recommend starting a rehabilitation treatment to stop the behavior so you don't damage your teeth further.

The road to recovery is often long, however. You may have relapses, and during those times, you need to take steps to protect your teeth. You can help protect your teeth from bulimia by:

  • Rinsing out your mouth with water to reduce the acidity. Water helps to dilute the acidic environment left behind after purging. 
  • Avoiding brushing right after purging. Many people brush as a way to hide that they have thrown up. However, brushing after vomiting can further damage your enamel because it is soft after exposure to acid. Wait several minutes and then brush. 
  • Taking supplements and treatments prescribed by your dentist. Your dentist might recommend using a fluoride mouthwash. Fluoride helps strengthen the enamel against decay. 

For anorexic patients, you should begin taking calcium-fortified supplements as soon as you can. Anorexic patients need help with reintroducing foods and vitamins. You should consult a dietician who can provide balanced, calcium-rich meal plans that will help restore your teeth and bones. 

For both conditions, your dentist might also recommend wearing a mouth guard at night to help reduce wear on the teeth when they are weak. This depends on the extent of the damage. 

Repair 

After recovery, it's time to consider full smile repair. Your body is amazing at healing itself, but your teeth might not be the same again. However, this does not mean that you have to live with decay, staining, weakness, tooth loss, or increased sensitivity. Your dentist can devise a careful treatment plan with options like:

  • Dental implants. For missing teeth or for teeth that must be pulled because they are too damaged, implants are a great option for most patients. For those with anorexia, however, it may take time to restore bone loss before the jaw can support an implant.
  • Crowns. For broken or cracked teeth, you can get a cap that is made from realistic-looking porcelain. The cap protects the inner tooth from further damage. 
  • Veneers. Sometimes, teeth are too stained to repair. In this case, you can file down some of the tooth and attach a veneer, which restores the creamy white color of a healthy tooth.
  • Basic whitening. Sometimes your teeth can bounce back with a combination of fillings, proper care, and dental cleanings. You can remove stains with professional whitening treatments. 
  • Bridges and partial dentures. These fill in spaces where teeth are missing when implants are too costly or when the jaw cannot support installing an implant.

Your teeth can be healthy again, even after an eating disorder. If you or a family member is struggling with their oral health because of disordered eating, contact us at Treasured Smiles Dentistry to learn about treatment options.