Oral Clues to Eating Disorders
Of the more than 10 million Americans currently affected by serious eating disorders, most are teenagers and young adult women. In addition to having a negative effect on self-image, relationships with family and friends, and performance in school or at work, eating disorders also affect a person’s oral health. In fact, oral clues—among them, thinner teeth, enlarged salivary glands and soft tissue ulcerations—are signs familiar to a dental professional of an eating problem such as bulimia or anorexia.
The nutritional deficiencies that accompany eating disorders can raise certain red flags. Two, for instance, are chronically irritated and sore corners of the mouth (angular cheilitis) and a swollen, painful tongue (glossitis).
Anorexia, bulimia and compulsive overeating are among the most serious eating disorders. A person with anorexia sees himself or herself as fat no matter how thin the body in the mirror appears. In bulimia, the patient fears becoming overweight, yet eats large amounts of food and gets rid of it immediately by vomiting or using laxatives. Compulsive overeaters “binge” on food but don’t necessarily “purge” the way bulimics do.
If you suspect your child has an eating disorder, do not ignore it. Engage in nonjudgmental discussions with your child about the behavior. Consult his or her pediatrician and, most likely, a mental health specialist.
While you seek help for the problem, we can suggest strategies to help prevent oral health complications. One of the most important is also counterintuitive. Although someone who has just vomited may want to brush his or her teeth immediately, the acid on the teeth makes them vulnerable to enamel loss. A rinse of either plain water or a solution of water and baking soda will help neutralize the harmful effects of stomach acids on the teeth. Brushing can come an hour later and should be done with a fluoride toothpaste. In fact, additional fluoride treatments, at home or in our office, may be recommended to help preserve tooth enamel.
Malnutrition from anorexia will often leave salivary glands swollen and less productive, leading to a tendency toward dry mouth, which in turn hastens tooth decay. In addition to fastidious dental hygiene, chewing sugarless gum with xylitol can help maintain oral moistness and preserve mouth health.
If you think your child might have an eating disorder, we can discuss the matter with you in more detail and refer you to other helpful community resources.
Give us a call at 509-891-7070 to schedule an appointment with Dr. Jared today!