While the behaviors of different Eating Disorders are all different, they each can have a negative effect on the individual’s oral health. Oral health is impacted by one’s diet, self-care, and environmental impact. Unfortunately, the behaviors of Eating Disorders (whether it be restriction, purging, or bingeing) do not contribute well to oral health and can furthermore have very detrimental effects on the individual.
According to Johannson . “Patients suffering from Eating Disorders (ED) have a substantially increased risk of developing poor oral health.” Thus, it is essential to understand the implications and effects that Eating Disorder behaviors have on your oral health.
Restriction and Oral Health
For those who restrict, they are depriving themselves and their bodies of proper nutrients to grow and become strong. According to Colgate , “In Anorexia, semi-starvation deprives the body of the nutrients it needs.
Osteoporosis can develop, weakening the bones in the jaw that support the teeth, leading to tooth loss.” As nutrients are what supports bone health, our teeth are greatly affected by the foods we put into our body. For those who restrict and deprive themselves of these nutrients, their bones will suffer.
Poor nutrition affects not only the bones but can also affect your gums. According to NEDA , “Without the proper nutrition, gums and other soft tissue inside your mouth may bleed easily. The glands that produce saliva may swell. Individuals may experience chronic dry mouth.” Restriction, then, can negatively impact every aspect of your oral health.
Purging and Oral Health
Individuals who purge as part of their Eating Disorder are also putting their oral health at great risk. According to Johannson , “The acidic challenge for the teeth in bulimic patients is depending not only on the type of the diet or drinks ingested but also in purging behavior caused by the gastric hydrochloric acid reaching the oral cavity.” The act of purging releases acid up to the oral cavity and this acid is extremely rough and harmful on the mouth.
In addition to the acid affecting the teeth, bulimia also affects the whole oral cavity. According to Colgate , “Frequent vomiting may cause your salivary glands to swell and the tissues of your mouth and tongue to become dry, red, and sore. People with bulimia may have a chronic sore throat and small hemorrhages under the skin of the palate.” Purging, then, has a severely negative impact on oral health.
Bingeing and Oral Health
Last but not least, those struggling with binge-eating are also at risk for oral health deterioration. Individuals who binge-eat are likely to consume an increased amount of sugar in the form of food and beverage, both of which can lead to cavities and other health issues.
According to Johannson , “Consumption of regularly sweetened sort drinks and juices will increase the risk for both dental erosion and cavities, and artificially sweetened soft drinks, without regular sugar, will increase the risk for dental erosion.” In other words, overconsumption of sugary food and drinks can cause severe oral health damage.
So, what can a patient or a treatment provider do to help maintain the oral health of the patient? Staying informed is the first essential component. Early detection is also key.
According to NEDA , “Early detection of Eating Disorders may ensure a smoother and more successful recovery period for the body and the teeth.” The earlier one intervenes and starts to create more healthy habits, the earlier their oral health can be saved.
One way to stay on top of things is to make sure the patient is going to the dentist regularly for check-ups. You can also encourage your patients to take proper care of their mouths themselves.
According to NEDA , “Encourage your patient to maintain meticulous oral health care related to tooth brushing and flossing.” With proper steps and precautions, as well as early interventions and awareness, the oral health of those with Eating Disorders can be improved upon and perhaps even saved.
Resources: Johannson, Ann-Katrin et al. “Diet and Behavioral Habits Related to Oral Health in Eating Disorder patients: a matched case-control study.” (2020). https://jeatdisord.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s40337-020-0281-z  NEDA. “Dental Complications of Eating Disorders.” (2018). https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/dental-complications-eating-disorders  Colgate. “Eating Disorders and Oral Health Problems.” (2020). https://www.colgate.com/en-us/oral-health/conditions/anorexia-bulimia/eating-disorders-and-oral-health-problems  Colgate. “Bulimia.” (2020). https://www.colgate.com/en-us/oral-health/conditions/anorexia-bulimia/bulimia
About the Author:
Emma Demar, LMSW is a therapist at Intrinpsych Woman on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. She holds an LMSW from Fordham University and holds a BA in Creative Writing from Trinity College. Emma recently completed a 2-Year Fellowship at Intrinpsych where she was expertly trained in Eating Disorders and DBT.
She uses a holistic approach in working with her patients, drawing from her background in Psychodynamic, CBT, and DBT, and she likes to begin where the client is and work from a strengths-based perspective. She specializes in Eating Disorders, OCD and related mental health disorders. Emma uses a direct, honest and open approach in working with her patients, who are generally women ages 12 to 32. She freelance writes for various mental health websites, and she blogs on her own website, thattrendytherapist.com.
The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective of eating disorders. These are not necessarily the views of Eating Disorder Hope, but an effort to offer a discussion of various issues by different concerned individuals.
We at Eating Disorder Hope understand that eating disorders result from a combination of environmental and genetic factors. If you or a loved one are suffering from an eating disorder, please know that there is hope for you, and seek immediate professional help.
Reviewed & Approved on April 27, 2020, by Jacquelyn Ekern MS, LPC
Published April 27, 2020, on EatingDisorderHope.com