How Eating Disorders Affect Your Oral Health

woman with long brown hair wearing a blue tank top looking in the mirror and holding her face sadly

Bodily-Systemic Connection

Your oral health is closely entwined with your bodily health. A healthy body and a healthy mouth go hand in hand, and eating disorders affect your whole body. The effects on your body and on your mouth can perpetuate a cycle of health concerns that can be difficult to recover from.

 

The dangers of eating disorders are many, ranging from losing hair to heart failure. There are many detrimental effects on your oral health, too. That’s why many dentists, like Dr. Brooks  Larson, treat not only the teeth but keep in mind the effects on your body, too.

If you’re struggling with an eating disorder, please call the National Eating Disorders Association helpline at (800) 931-2237 and seek professional help. Eating disorders can be fatal and wreak havoc on your health.

Oral Health Issues Associated With Eating Disorders

Osteoporosis

Eating disorders deprive your body of the nutrients it needs to ensure your bones are strong. Not only can this lead to general health issues, but your teeth suffer too. If your jawbone becomes weak, your teeth are more likely to fall out.

 

A weak jawbone also leaves you more vulnerable to periodontal disease, an infection of the gums. Periodontitis can, in turn, increase your risk of developing other health conditions.

Tooth Discoloration

Eating disorders like bulimia involve throwing up often. The acid from your stomach washes over your teeth each time, creating a myriad of oral health issues. Tooth discoloration is just one of the issues that result from stomach acid on your teeth.

Increased Risk of Cavities

Whether you throw up or not, nearly every eating disorder puts you at a heightened risk of developing cavities. The harshness of stomach acid can erode the enamel on your teeth, leaving them more susceptible to cavities and infection.

 

Binge eating, even without subsequent purging, can also lead to cavities. That’s because every time you eat, you make your teeth more likely to attract bacteria. The more you eat and the frequency of eating can impact how much debris is left on your teeth.

Tooth Sensitivity

All eating disorders can lead to tooth sensitivity due to the weakening of your enamel over time. Stomach acid can melt through enamel quickly, resulting in cavities and eventually, severe decay. 

 

With your enamel gone, the soft dentin layer is easily penetrated and the innermost area of your tooth is exposed. The center of your tooth is home to a sensitive bundle of nerves and blood vessels called the pulp. Infections of the pulp can be extremely painful and dangerous.

Dry Mouth

Eating disorders can lead to an inflammation of your saliva glands, leading to less saliva being present in your mouth. Saliva is important for digestion and for washing away food that may get stuck on your teeth.

 

Dry mouth puts you at risk for cavities and can be an uncomfortable condition.

Bleeding Gums

Without proper nutrients, your gums can begin to deteriorate and become more sensitive. They may bleed more easily.

TMJ Disorders

Eating disorders can lead to arthritis, which can affect your temporomandibular joint. This joint is located near your ear and acts as the hinge of your jaw. When affected by arthritis, you may have difficulty chewing and hear a popping noise when you open your mouth.

 

TMJ issues can be painful, leading to difficulty eating and speaking.

How You Can Protect Your Oral Health

Recovery

Helping your oral health to recover alongside recovering from an eating disorder can be difficult, but helps to improve your overall health.

 

Taking care of your oral health every day can help to improve the appearance and strength of your teeth, especially since they’re now getting more of the nutrients they need. 

 

Recovery isn’t a straight path — sometimes relapses do happen. If you are recovering from an eating disorder and find yourself throwing up, you can reduce harm to your teeth by rinsing your mouth out with only water afterward. 

Your dentist can address your specialized needs and help you to recover the beauty of your smile. Dentists like Dr. Eric Koch can recommend fluoride treatments and high-strength fluoride gel, as well as provide a mouthguard that can help protect your teeth from stomach acid.

Procedures

Sometimes, eating well and taking care of your teeth isn’t enough to improve your smile after an eating disorder. Severe or prolonged damage can mean a smile with permanent damage. But with restorative and cosmetic dental procedures, the damage doesn’t have to be permanent.

 

Teeth whitening can restore the color of your teeth to a brighter shade, so you don’t have to be ashamed of having yellow teeth.

 

Veneers are also an option for discolored teeth, but also fix a number of other issues such as shape, size, gaps, and unevenness. 

Occasionally, teeth need to be extracted due to severe damage or infection. An implant dentist like Dr. Michael Kirsch can replace extracted or missing teeth with sturdy and beautiful dental implants.