Eating Disorders and Your Dentist

The food you eat and your overall dietary habits play a big role in your oral health. We’ve all heard in the news, or from our health care providers, that eating too much sugar in our diets can lead to cavities, but it’s also true that eating other highly acidic and readily-available “diet” foods can have a similarly negative impact on your teeth.

Some studies have shown that highly restrictive diets that contain these types of high-acid foods (such as diet soda) can have devastating effects on your teeth – meaning restrictive dieting or an eating disorder is harmful to your teeth as well as other parts of your body.

As dentists, we’re on the front lines when it comes to identifying and helping to bring awareness to eating disorders. The signs and symptoms vary depending on an individuals circumstances and habits, but they often include:

  • Tissue loss and lesions on tooth surfaces
  • Changes in teeth: shape length and colour
  • Increased temperature sensitivity as the results of tooth pulp that is exposed
  • Dry mouth and dry, cracked lips caused by and enlarged salivary gland
  • Tooth decay that can be irritated with brushing or swishing
  • Acute pain in random teeth that seems to have no particular cause

Changes in Your Mouth – Often the First Sign of an Eating Disorder

The symptoms above are among the first physical signs that a person has an eating disorder. If you’re experiencing these symptoms, regardless of the underlying cause, you should see your dentist right away to discuss the cause and the right course of treatment to help alleviate the symptoms and address the underlying cause.

Symptoms of eating disorders go far beyond the mouth – osteoporosis, heart failure, and gastric ruptures to name a few – yet, it’s often the unbearable discomfort of oral complications that lead people to a health professional for help.

Our Job as Dentists When it Come to Eating Disorders

As your dentist, it’s our job to be forthright and honest with you. So, if we see what could appear to be evidence of an eating disorder, we’ll address it in a way that’s non-confrontational and initiate an appropriate conversation and ask questions about what may be going on with your current oral health.

Because eating disorders impact more than just your oral health, we may suggest you get further help from other medical professionals: your doctor, nutritionists, support group(s), etc.

For parents, it’s important to have confidence in your family dentist’s ability to identify and consult with you about the possibility that your child has an eating disorder. Often, children are more willing to confide in someone who is not a family member, but is still someone they can trust.

We’re experienced in art of initiating these kinds of difficult conversations in a non-threatening way that makes the patient feel at-ease regardless of their age. We’re not here to judge or make accusations or get involved outside of our primary role as a health care provider. By gently pointing out one’s visible symptoms and that we’ve seen them associated with particular behaviours (vomiting, excessive diet soda consumptions, etc), we can often segue into the important conversation about getting help.

If you’re an adult with an eating disorder – or a parent of a child you suspect has an eating disorder – call our office and schedule an appointment. Everything we do is discreet, confidential and judgment-free. As always, our job is to be your trusted health care provider when it comes to your teeth and helping you through something as difficult as an eating disorder is no different.

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