Dental Complications of Eating Disorders

Changes in the mouth are oftentimes the first physical signs of an eating disorder. The harmful habits and nutritional deficiencies that often accompany disordered eating can have severe consequences on one’s dental health.  An eating disorder may cause lingering or even permanent damage to the teeth and mouth. Early detection of eating disorders may ensure a smoother and more successful recovery period for the body and the teeth. Damage to the teeth and mouth can be tempered by arming yourself with the right information and receiving appropriate guidance from your Dentist.

Dental Effects of Eating Disorders

  • Nutrients that promote oral health include calcium, iron and B vitamins. Deficiencies in these vitamins and minerals can cause tooth decay, gingivitis or periodontitis in more severe cases, canker sores, bad breath or halitosis, and dry mouth which is also known as halitosis.
  • Frequent purging leads to strong stomach acid repeatedly flowing over the teeth. The tooth’s enamel can be lost, teeth can change in color, shape and length, becoming brittle around the edges, translucent and weak, which in turn leads to hot/cold tooth sensitivity. In extreme cases the pulp can be exposed and cause infection, discoloration or even pulpal death. All of which can also be aggravated by extensive tooth brushing or rinsing following purging.
  • Tissue loss and erosive lesions on the surface of the mouth especially the soft palate may occur. A frequent binge-and-purge cycle can cause an enlargement of the salivary glands. Enlarged glands can be painful and are often visible to others, which can lead to emotional distress.
  • Degenerative arthritis within the temporomandibular joint (TMJ) in the jaw. This joint is found where the lower jaw hinges to the skull. When arthritis begins in this joint it may create pain in the joint area, chronic headaches and problems chewing and opening/closing the mouth.

Treatment of the Oral Health Consequences of Eating Disorders

  • Maintain meticulous oral health care related to tooth brushing and flossing, as well as frequent and appropriate communication and examination by your dentist. A confidential relationship should always be maintained between the dentist and patient, and therefore, the patient should feel that the dental office is a “safe” place to disclose their struggles and progress towards recovery.
  • To maintain oral care while curbing these behaviors, after purging patients should immediately rinse their mouth with water or use a sugar-free mouth rinse. Patients should swish only water around their mouth due to the high acidic content in the oral cavity. It has also been recommended that brushing be halted for an hour to avoid actually scrubbing the stomach acids deeper into the tooth enamel.
  • Dry mouth, or xerostomia, may result from vomiting and/or poor overall nutrition. Xerostomia will also frequently lead to tooth decay. Moisturizing the mouth with water, or other specified products, will help keep recurrent decay at a minimum.
  • Consult with your dentist about your specific treatment needs. Fluoride rinses may be prescribed as well as desensitizing or re-mineralizing agents.

If you are experiencing any dental symptoms, talk with your dentist about ways to care for your teeth and mouth. If you notice these symptoms in a loved one, you may use your observations to initiate a respectful conversation about your concerns. There are methods for improving oral health while seeking help to change harmful eating habits. At Heritage Oak Dental we are here for you! Contact us at 916-626-4050 or check out our website


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