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Eating Disorders and Oral Health

By Brianne Jones, RDH

How Eating Disorders Wreak Havoc on Teeth and Gums

Anorexia, Binge Eating, and Bulimia are all eating disorders that can take a serious toll on a person's health. They raise the risk of heart failure, cause malnutrition, block the intestines from normal function, trigger seizures, lower the thyroid and sex hormones, lead to kidney failure, and more.

More than 10 million Americans struggle with an eating disorder. Most sufferers are between the ages of 12 and 25 and the symptoms are alarming.
They also prompt a multitude of dental problems.
According to the National Eating
Disorders Association, here’s what eating disorders do to your teeth and gums:

  • Gums may bleed easily and salivary glands may become inflamed, causing chronic dry mouth.
  • Lack of nutrients promote tooth decay, gum disease, mouth sores, bad breath, and dry mouth.
  • Purging washes tooth enamel with stomach acid, causing teeth to become weak and brittle, and change color.
  • The temporomandibular joint is the joint that connects the lower jaw to the skull. Eating disorders raise the risk of degenerative arthritis in the joint, causing jaw pain, chronic headaches, problems chewing, and difficulties opening and closing the mouth.
  • Binging and purging can cause salivary glands to enlarge and become painful.

Eating disorders are nothing to smile about. In some cases they can be life threatening. Research shows anorexia has the highest death rate of any psychiatric disorder.

If you suspect your teen struggles with an eating disorder, seek help from your pediatrician or family doctor right away. Discuss treatment options and ask for referrals to healthcare providers such as dietitians, nutritionists, therapists, psychologists, dentists and psychiatrists. Seek out a support group and talk to your child’s school counselor.