While all people struggle with different problems each day, it is often the dentist that will discover an eating disorder first. Eating disorders tend to be secretive but they can be deadly.
Delta Dental shares some powerful insight about eating disorders in an article entitled Dentists Often First to Discover Eating Disorders.
As many as 35 million men, women and children suffer from eating disorders in the United States. Dentists are becoming the first line of defense when it comes to spotting eating disorders in patients, according to the Academy of General Dentistry.
An eating disorder is a complex compulsion to eat in a way which disturbs physical, mental, and psychological health. The three most common eating disorders are anorexianervosa, bulimia nervosa and binge eating disorder. The eating may be excessive (compulsive over eating); restrictive; or may include normal eating punctuated with episodes of purging(1) (such as self-induced vomiting, use of laxatives, fasting, diuretics or diet pills(2)). The eating may include cycles of binging and purging; or may encompass the ingesting of non-foods(1) (such as dirt, clay or chalk).(3)
"A parent may not recognize a child is anorexic or bulimic, however, through a routine dental checkup, a dentist may spot the oral signs of the disease," said Dr. Katina Morelli, D.D.S., dental director for Delta Dental of Illinois. "Eating disorders have serious implications for oral health and overall health so when dentists see the symptoms of eating disorders we encourage our patients to seek help."
Bad breath, sensitive teeth and eroded tooth enamel are just a few of the signs that dentists use to determine whether a patient suffers from an eating disorder. Other signs include teeth that are worn and appear almost translucent, mouth sores, dry mouth, cracked lips, bleeding gums, and tender mouth, throat and salivary glands.(4) Any of these symptoms can alert a dentist to a potential eating disorder.
Eating disorders rob the body of minerals, vitamins, proteins and other nutrients needed for good health and may cause injury to teeth, muscles and major organs.(1) Stomach acids can damage teeth with repeated exposures during purging for those individuals with bulimia nervosa. For those individuals with anorexia nervosa, which is characterized by self-induced starvation, poor nutrition can affect oral health by increasing the risk for periodontal [gum] diseases.
According to the National Eating Disorders Association, studies have found up to 89 percent of bulimic patients have signs of tooth erosion, due to the effects of stomach acid.(5) Over time, this loss of tooth enamel can be considerable, and the teeth change color, shape and length.
If you or a loved one battles an eating disorder please don't hesitate to call us. There are things we can do to help diagnose and support you and your family. Thankfully there are many things that you can do to prevent permanent tooth decay. Don't be afraid to reach out for help or to offer help to someone you love. We are all in this together!
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