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Eating Disorders

More than 10 million Americans currently are affected by serious eating disorders such as anorexia, bulimia and binge eating, according to the National Eating Disorders Association. While anyone can suffer from an eating disorder, they are most common in teenagers and young adult women. In addition to having a negative impact on an individual’s health and quality of life, eating disorders also affect self-image, relationships with families and friends, and performance in school or at work. If you suffer from an eating disorder, it’s important to talk to your health care provider.

Eating disorders can also affect a person’s oral health. Without the proper nutrition, gums and other soft tissue inside the mouth may bleed easily. The glands that produce saliva may swell and individuals may experience chronic dry mouth. Throwing up frequently can affect teeth too. That’s because when strong stomach acid repeatedly flows over teeth, the tooth’s enamel can be lost to the point that the teeth change in color, shape and length. The edges of teeth become thin and break off easily. Eating hot or cold food or drink may become uncomfortable.

Types of eating disorders:

  • Anorexia. This typically involves an extreme fear of gaining weight or a dread of becoming fat. Even though these individuals may be very thin or even extremely underweight, they see themselves as “fat.” They may attempt to reach or maintain what they think is their perfect body weight by literally starving themselves. They may also exercise excessively. Others may eat excessive amounts of food in one sitting and then attempt to get rid of the food and calories from their bodies by forcing themselves to “throw up” or by the misuse of laxatives or enemas.
  • Bulimia. Like anorexia, bulimia also includes the fears of being overweight. But it also includes hidden periods of overeating (binge eating) which may occur several times a week or even several times a day. While overeating, individuals may feel completely out of control. They may gulp down thousands of calories often high in carbohydrates and fat–in amounts of food that would be greater than what an average person would eat at one sitting. After they overeat, the individuals try to “undo” the fact that they ate too much as quickly as possible by forcing themselves to “throw up” or by the misuse of laxatives or enemas. This is often referred to as “binging and purging.”
  • Binge Eating or Compulsive Overeating. This may affect almost as many men as women. In the past, these individuals were sometimes described as “food addicts.” They overeat (binge eat) as noted in bulimia above, but do not regularly try to get rid of the food immediately by throwing up or by misusing laxatives or enemas. Feelings of guilt may make it easier for the person to overeat again.

Prevention

Eating disorders arise from a variety of physical, emotional and social issues all of which need to be addressed to help prevent and treat these disorders. Family and friends can help by setting good examples about eating and offering positive comments about healthy eating practices. While eating disorders appear to focus on body image, food and weight, they are often related to many other issues. Referral to health professionals and encouragement to seek treatment is critical as early diagnosis and intervention greatly improve the opportunities for recovery.

If you suffer from an eating disorder these practices can reduce oral health problems associated with it: 

  • Maintain meticulous oral health care related to toothbrushing and flossing.
  • Immediately after throwing up, do NOT brush but rinse with baking soda to help neutralize the effects of the stomach acid.
  • Consult with your dentist about your specific treatment needs.
  • See your dentist regularly.