Eating disorders can be physically and emotionally destructive, but the results of a new clinical study indicate oral health is also destroyed by the condition.
The study by the University of Bergen in Norway revealed patients with an eating disorder – such as Anorexia and Bulimia – had significantly more dental health problems than those without, including tooth sensitivity, facial pain and severe dental erosion.
The report highlighted that more than one in three of those with an eating disorder (36%) had ‘severe dental erosion’ compared to just 11% of the control group. Those with an eating disorder also self-reported higher daily tooth sensitivity, higher occurrence of facial pains and of dry mouth.
It is estimated eating disorders affect 1.1 million women and men in the UK, although many more do not come forward with their problems. While vomiting is often associated with eating disorders, the results of the research reveal oral health is likely to suffer too.
Chief executive of the British Dental Health Foundation Dr Nigel Carter discussed the reasons behind the apparent poor oral health and offered some advice for sufferers: ‘When you vomit repeatedly, as with certain eating disorders, it can severely affect oral health.
‘The high levels of acid in the vomit can cause damage to tooth enamel. Acid attacks of this sort on a frequent basis means the saliva in your mouth won’t have the opportunity to naturally repair the damage done to your teeth by the contact with the acidic vomit, hence the increased severity of dental erosion witnessed in the study.
‘People suffering with an eating disorder should look to, wherever possible, rinse their mouth as soon as possible after vomiting to help reduce acid effects. Do not brush immediately after vomiting as this may brush away softened enamel. The use of a fluoride toothpaste will help to protect teeth over time, and by chewing on sugar free gum it will help to increase saliva flow and neutralise acids in the mouth. Your dentist can also prescribe high strength fluoride toothpaste which will help to protect your teeth.
‘We would highly recommend more frequent visits to the dentist to ensure the problem does not deteriorate further and to identify whether any treatment would be required. If the problem persists, don’t be afraid to discuss your problems.’
Support groups such as Anorexia and Bulimia Care, www.anorexiabulimiacare.org.uk, are on hand to provide advice and support.
The Foundation’s own ‘Tell Me About’ leaflet on dental erosion, www.dentalhealth.org/tell-me-about/topic/mouth-conditions/dental-erosion, also gives some advice on how you can continue to look after your oral health.