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Eating disorders such as binge eating, bulimia and anorexia nervosa are not uncommon among teens. Obsession over their weight affects millions of adolescents, particularly girls. A study has found that about 36% of adolescent girls think they are overweight. Over 90% of cases of eating disorders are girls. Teen boys, while they also experience body image concerns, often strive for a perfect body by doing excessive exercise.

What is Eating Disorder?

The most popular forms of eating disorders include bulimia nervosa, anorexia nervosa, and binge eating disorders. Eating disorders are psychological disorders involving extreme disturbances on a person's eating behavior. For instance, a teenager with bulimia suffers from frequent binge eating followed by the use of laxatives or vomiting to get rid of the food. An anorexic person refuses to maintain a normal body while a binge eater has uncontrolled overeating.

How Eating Disorders Affect Dental Health

Here’s a list of dental complications brought about by eating disorders:

1. Due to inadequate nutrition, the gums and other tissues inside the mouth may be damaged easily. A teen may suffer chronic dry mouth or swelling of the salivary gland.

2. Self-starvation, as in the case of anorexia nervosa, usually lead to nutritional deficiency or malnutrition. Nutrients necessary for healthy teeth and gums include iron, calcium, and B-vitamins. Insufficient intake of these essential nutrients can lead to gum disease and tooth decay.

Dental discoloration and damage due to bulimia

Dental discoloration and damage due to bulimia

3. Frequent vomiting leads to harsh gastric acid coating the teeth repeatedly. Vomit is highly toxic and damaging to your teeth and oral tissues as it contains stomach acid. When this happens over and over again, the enamel may be lost and the teeth may change its shape, color, and translucence. The teeth may become brittle, weak and highly sensitive. Drinking hot or cold beverages may be very uncomfortable.

The edges of the teeth usually thin out or break easily. Sometimes, the pulp may be exposed, causing infection or pulp death.

4. Purging can cause redness, irritation, and wounds inside the mouth, specifically on the soft palate or the upper surface of the mouth. When the soft palate is already damaged, this is already a warning sign among dental professionals that the eating disorder is getting worse, as this part rarely gets harmed unless it is done intentionally. Soft palate scratches appear from using fingers to induce vomiting.

5. Frequent purging can lead to enlargement of the salivary glands. This can cause pain and discomfort.

How to Manage Oral Health Complications from Eating Disorders

In order to maintain oral health, the patient must follow meticulous oral health care such as tooth brushing, flossing, and frequent communication by the pediatric dentist. While curbing the purging behavior, a person must immediately rinse their mouth with water only after purging due to the high acid content of the oral cavity. Brushing must be halted for one hour to prevent scrubbing the acids into the enamel.

Dry mouth or xerostomia may occur due to vomiting and this can lead to tooth decay. Moisturize your mouth with water or other suggest products by your dentist to help keep decay at bay.