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Eating disorders are terrible ailments that can have a lasting effect on nearly every system in the body. One of the aspects of eating disorders that is not discussed too often is the way they can impact a patient's dental health. Oftentimes, those who suffer from eating disorders as teens and young adults develop dental problems that continue to impact them for the rest of their lives. Here's a look at three specific ways that eating disorders can ruin your dental health.
Acid exposure can erode tooth enamel.
Patients who suffer from bulimia, an eating disorder which causes individuals to binge on large portions of food and then vomit to eliminate that food, often experience acid erosion of the tooth enamel. The acidic stomach contents eat away at the tooth enamel over time, leaving the patient very susceptible not only to cavities and tooth decay, but also to issues with tooth sensitivity. Even patients who enter recovery from bulimia sometimes struggle to eat comfortably, since acid erosion has left their teeth so sensitive to pressure and temperature changes.
Frequent toothbrushing can erode tooth enamel.
Some patients with eating disorders tend to brush their teeth very frequently. They may do this to help curb their appetite -- many find that they're less hungry when their mouth tastes like toothpaste. They may also do this to get the taste of vomit out of their mouths, or to convince friends and family that they've just eaten and are not brushing their teeth. There is such a thing as too much toothbrushing -- it can erode tooth enamel, just like acid exposure, and can also damage the gums, leading to infections that may eventually result in tooth loss.
Nutrient deficiencies can lead to weakened teeth and poor gum health.
Patients with eating disorders typically end up deficient in vital nutrients because they're not eating enough. Deficiencies of vitamins A, C, and E can cause gum disease. A deficiency of protein, vitamin D, and calcium can cause the bone around the tooth to resorb, causing the teeth to become loose and eventually fall out. The periodontal ligaments, which hold the teeth in the jaw, may be destroyed when a patient is malnourished. Once these are broken down, they cannot be re-built, so tooth loss becomes a common issue.
If you or someone you know is suffering from an eating disorder, be sure to seek help from a qualified doctor, psychiatrist, or general dentist. Your dental health (and your overall health) depends on it.