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Do eating disorders affect oral health?

Vicki Berkus, MD
Psychiatry

We frequently try to educate the dentists to look for the wearing away of enamel in patients that are purging. The stomach acid that is brought up and over the teeth can destroy the enamel fairly quickly. Many of my patients have several cavities, need crowns and I had one 19 yr. old woman who had to have dentures. Since the immune system is compromised in anorexic patients, we see an increase in fungal and bacterial problems in the mouth. I also worry if my patients are drinking alcohol in addition to purging because the combination of alcohol and stomach acid can cause the fragile blood vessels in the esophagus to rupture. It is like trying to put back together a wet tissue and I have never seen anyone survive two bleeds.

Eating disorders, such as anorexia and bulimia, can significantly affect oral health. Not eating enough deprives the body of the necessary nutrients to maintain normal oral health. Without good nutrition, gums can bleed more easily and increase risk for infection. Saliva glands may become inflamed, decreasing saliva flow and causing dry mouth. People who vomit frequently expose the teeth to stomach acid which  can seriously harm the teeth by removing the covering layer of the teeth (enamel).  Because of these problems, the teeth can become chipped more easily, change shape and length, and be much more sensitive to cold or hot temperatures. Eating disorders are serious medical problems that need to be treated by a doctor. Help is available. If you think you have an eating disorder call the National Eating Disorder Association Helpline.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.