Eating Disorders

Dentists Can Identify Clues to Eating Disorders

With nearly 10 million women and 1 million men suffering from eating disorders in the U.S., more dentists are becoming the first line of defense when it comes to recognizing these problems in patients—especially teens.

Though a parent may not be aware of a child’s eating disorder, there are warning signs the dentist might spot in a regular check-up.

Oral Symptoms the Dentist May See

Many of these symptoms are caused by stomach acids brought up through the mouth of someone with an eating disorder. The dentist might notice:

  • Bad breath
  • Sensitive teeth
  • Tooth erosion, especially inside the upper front teeth
  • Tooth thinning and chipping, appearing worn and almost translucent
  • Tender mouth, throat and salivary glands
  • Mouth sores
  • Dry mouth
  • Cracked lips
  • Bleeding gums

Side Effects of Eating Disorders

Negative effects of eating disorders include:

  • Unhealthy weight loss
  • Malnutrition
  • Emotional and behavioral effects
  • Permanent damage to teeth
  • Fatigue
  • Dizziness
  • Fainting
  • Brittle nails
  • Thinning hair that breaks and falls out
  • Baby-fine hair covering face and other areas

Diagnosis and Treatment

When a dentist notices warning signs of an eating disorder, he or she may be able to point parents toward help. If teeth are damaged, it is important for a patient to recover from the eating disorder before pursuing restorative or cosmetic dental surgery. The person’s overall health is the first priority.

Keeping Teeth Healthy while Patient Recovers

To minimize the effects of purging on the teeth, a person should immediately rinse with club soda, a sugar-free mouthwash or water. This neutralizes stomach acids that weaken tooth enamel. Only after rinsing should a person brush teeth with a soft bristled toothbrush and fluoride toothpaste.

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