Eating disorders have probably been plaguing people for centuries, but it’s really been in the last couple of decades that they have been openly discussed and widely diagnosed. So much about eating disorders has been covered in popular and scientific media, it’s hard to imagine that anyone is unfamiliar with the topic. The primary disorders are anorexia nervosa, when people quit eating, and bulimia, when people overeat and then purge by vomiting, laxatives or excessive exercise.
It may take months or years for someone’s eating disorder to be recognized and formally diagnosed. A major characteristic of the disorder is secrecy—eating in secret, or secretly not eating—and purging in secret. Eventually, some sufferers may become emaciated and weak from malnutrition. By then, family or friends may have insisted on consulting a physician.
But very often, the first professional to recognize an eating disorder is the dentist.
A train wreck for teeth
The excessive vomiting that is characteristic of many people with bulimia is a train wreck for the teeth and oral tissues. Stomach acid is extremely corrosive and can quickly erode the enamel in teeth. Often when people vomit, their lower teeth are protected by the tongue so that the erosion shows up sooner on the upper teeth. In addition, following vomiting, people may brush their teeth so vigorously, the erosion of the teeth is actually made worse. In extreme cases, dentists may also recognize swelling of the salivary glands, and trauma to the soft oral tissues.
People with anorexia may not manifest dental issues as quickly or as dramatically as people with bulimia. Eventually, teeth will show the effects of a lack of calcium and other minerals that strengthen enamel. Proper nutrition is necessary for strong enamel and for the delicate balance of oral chemistry, including the natural antioxidants and other components in healthy saliva. Also, it’s not uncommon for people with anorexia to have poor dental hygiene—inadequate brushing, flossing and dental check-ups. All these can lead to a rise in dental caries, cavities, and oral diseases such as gingivitis or periodontitis.
A dentist will advise patients who vomit that brushing teeth immediately after vomiting can increase the erosion. It’s better to rinse the mouth with water, perhaps with a little baking soda to neutralize the acid, and then allow saliva to further neutralize the acid. Toothpaste, mouth rinses, and oral gels that contain fluoride can help resupply the minerals lost to erosion. And AO ProVantage dental gel and AO ProRinse help replenish the oral tissues and saliva with natural, soothing antioxidants.
Health care professionals understand that treating an eating disorder may require nutritional, medical, and psychological intervention. Because of the toll the disease takes on the teeth and oral tissues, proper oral care and dental hygiene must be part of the comprehensive treatment plan.
If you’d like to build a powerful daily health regimen to help you keep your teeth looking and feeling their best, PerioSciences can help. Our AO ProVantage products and AO ProRinse help soothe dental tissues and keep your mouth healthy. To learn more about antioxidants in dental care, fill out the form on our blog. To connect with PerioSciences, check us out on Facebook or Twitter.