In a recent Straits Times article (“More people seeking help for eating disorders here”, 1 Jan 2011, ST) it was reported that doctors have been seeing a significant increase in the number of people being treated for eating disorders. Eating disorders not only cause significant damage to its sufferers’ health – it also results in detrimental effects on dental health.
Dentists can often tell when a patient is suffering from an eating disorder. This is because a sufferer’s gums and teeth will show obvious signs of damage. If not treated early, the damage done might be irreversible and in severe cases, there can even be a complete loss of teeth.
There are two main kinds of eating disorders – anorexia and bulimia nervosa. In the former, a person suffers from an obsessive fear of gaining weight and refuses food in order to achieve a weight that is lower than a normal person’s. In the latter, a person that suffers from bulimia usually goes on a food binge before using various methods to purge the food that has been eaten.
When a person suffers from anorexia, the constant refusal of food intake causes a significant reduction in saliva production, which is necessary for cleaning the teeth. It also results in a dry mouth with red and cracked lips. Bulimia sufferers are at risk for tooth decay, tooth loss and gum disease that result from frequent vomiting due to the gastric acid which corrodes the enamel of the teeth. Tooth erosion is hastened if there is frequent vomiting.
To prevent further damage to eroded teeth, dentists may use crowns, composite bonding (which is a tooth coloured material designed to replace enamel) or veneers to protect the enamel of the teeth from further wear and tear.
Sensitive teeth, bleeding gums (resulting from gum disease or gum erosion), discomfort and discoloration of teeth are also signs of poor dental health resulting from eating disorders. But all is not lost for people who suffer from eating disorders if they visit their dentist regularly to ensure that their teeth are restored and protected from any further damage.