Your smile is the first thing most people notice about you, so if you want to make a good first impression, it’s your responsibility to treat it with care by taking care of your body with proper nutrition.
An eating disorder is a sure way to damage that wonderful smile, and because National Eating Disorder Awareness Week is observed Feb. 23 thru March 1, we’re shedding light on the damage eating disorders can do in terms of your oral health.
Anorexia and bulimia are the most common eating disorders, and 89 percent of people who suffer from bulimia have signs of tooth erosion.
Bulimia is categorized by repeated sessions of binge eating, followed by fast efforts to avoid weight gain. Some of those efforts include vomiting, which causes enamel to become weakened by excess amounts of acid. This disorder can affect men and women in any age stage of life.
Anorexia is a disorder that involves fear of gaining weight or becoming “fat.” Restricting food intake is how most people who suffer from anorexia try to lose weight. Other methods include laxatives, vomiting and excessive exercise. Lack of nutrition will likely cause a painful, dry mouth. Just like bulimia, the acid from vomiting will cause tooth erosion, and as a result, teeth will change in shape, size and color.
It’s particularly heartbreaking for me to see someone who is in orthodontic treatment show signs of damaged enamel and other oral health problems caused by an eating disorder. Think about it: you’ve spent hundreds of hours of your lifetime brushing and flossing your teeth to keep them healthy and fresh. You have endured braces or retainers, along with many hours during the course of treatment in an orthodontist’s chair while adjustments are made. And then there are your professional dental cleanings you should have at least twice each year. Why throw away all of those hours (and money) to suffer the damages that come along with eating disorders? Those damages can be painful, costly and detrimental to your health and self-image.
Unfortunately, almost all of us know someone who has been affected by eating disorders. It is estimated that 10 million Americans have suffered from these disorders.
Orthodontists and dentists are often the first health professionals to notice signs and symptoms of eating disorders. The telltale signs are literally written all over the patient’s face: cracked lips, bleeding gums, a sore mouth, foul breath, dry or sensitive mouth, and eroded tooth enamel.
Those are just the initial problems. More serious signs of an eating disorder can include:
- Acid erosion
- Receding gums
- Chemical wear on teeth
- Changes in the height and shape of your molars and teeth
Any of these symptoms are serious dental problems that need to be treated. If we have strong suspicions a patient suffers from an eating disorder, we have an obligation to educate that patient and provide information on seeking treatment and therapy.
The good news is that confidential counseling is available free of charge. If you or someone you know suffers from an eating disorder, I urge you to contact the National Eating Disorder Association’s toll-free, confidential helpline: 1-800-931-2237. Hours are Monday-Thursday, 9 a.m. – 9 p.m. and Friday from 9 a.m. – 5 p.m.
It is always important to practice good nutrition, health and wellness. In return, your teeth, your wallet and your orthodontist will thank you.