Eating Disorders and Oral Health
Good eating habits clearly impact oral health—but what about eating disorders? The harmful habits and nutritional deficiencies that often accompany bulimia (compulsive eating and bingeing) and anorexia (restriction of food intake) can have severe consequences on dental health.
Dental Effects of Eating Disorders
An eating disorder may cause lingering or even permanent damage to the teeth and mouth. Understanding how eating disorders can harm teeth can help minimize permanent damage.
- Lack of proper nutrition. Food restriction often leads to a deficiency of calcium, iron, Vitamin D, as well as other nutrients, that are needed for good dental health. Insufficient calcium promotes tooth decay and gum disease.
- Insufficient calcium. Because it plays a role in making the jaw bones healthy and strong, a lack of calcium can cause teeth to loosen, and possibly fall out. If you don’t get enough calcium through your diet, the body will draw it out from existing sources, like your bones and teeth.
Lack of Vitamin D. The body needs Vitamin D to absorb calcium. Vitamin D also plays a role in your immune system by serving as an anti-inflammatory. It can also help fight gum disease.
Not enough iron. The main role of iron is to transport oxygen throughout your body. If you have a decrease in the amount of healthy red blood cells, ability to fight infections is lessened.
- Overeating and reflux. Binge eating can cause an excess of stomach acid. When it backs up into the esophagus, it causes heartburn. If stomach acid reaches the mouth, it can burn the oral tissues and disintegrate your teeth
- Vomiting. Purging food by self-induced vomiting brings harsh acid from the stomach. Repeated vomiting leads to strong stomach acid repeatedly flowing over the teeth, wears away enamel. The erosion is often so bad that the enamel appears translucent and greatly increases the risk of tooth decay. Tooth decay can be aggravated by extensive tooth brushing or rinsing after vomiting.
- Dry mouth. Vomiting and/or poor nutrition can cause the glands that produce saliva to swell. This can lead to chronic dry mouth, making it hard to neutralize the acidity in your mouth. As a result, the risk for cavities, tooth loss, and infections in the mouth increases.
Preventing Damage to Teeth Due to Eating Disorders
If you have an eating disorder, your dentist can suggest ways to protect your teeth.
- Fluoride treatments can strengthen tooth enamel.
- Toothpastes, gums or mints containing a sugar substitute called Xylitol, can also help promote the production of saliva, preventing dry mouth and cavities.
- A mouthguard can minimize the effects of stomach acid on your teeth.
Good Oral Hygiene and Eating Disorders
- Rinse the mouth after vomiting with tap water.
- Wait at least 20 minutes before brushing your teeth after vomiting.
- Brush teeth vertically, from the gum line towards the ends, which allows the bristles of the toothbrush to reach in between the teeth. Use a flexible toothbrush and a non-abrasive toothpaste, ideally one formulated for protecting the enamel.