In recent years, the number of teenagers with eating disorders has increased dramatically. According to the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders (ANAD), as many as 24 million Americans suffer from some form of eating disorder and 95% of those who have eating disorders are between the ages of 12 and 25.
There are many long-term problems associated with eating disorders, including osteoporosis, infertility and anemia. Another unfortunate side-effect involves dental health. If your child suffers from bulimia nervosa, an eating disorder characterized by a cycle of food binges and vomiting, his or her teeth may show signs of tooth erosion.
Tooth erosion occurs when the tooth surface loses enamel after exposure to acid. It affects more than 90% of individuals with bulimia and 20% of individuals with anorexia nervosa, a disorder that involves starvation. There is often overlap between the two diseases — those with anorexia may sometimes binge and purge, and those with bulimia may try to restrict their food.
Each disorder results in dental diseases for different reasons. In bulimia, tooth erosion is caused by vomit, which is highly acidic and damaging. The frequency that a person engages in this activity will determine how much the teeth are affected. Usually, we will notice this erosion on the upper front teeth. In more severe cases, the salivary glands can become enlarged, causing puffiness on the side of the face. Anorexics, on the other hand, may have dental problems because they are often negligent about grooming and hygiene in general, including oral hygiene.
Every time your teenager visits our office, we will conduct a thorough examination, which includes looking out for the specific signs of eating disorders. If we do find that your teenager has severe tooth erosion, we’ll be sure to discuss our findings with you. We may recommend a sodium fluoride mouth rinse to strengthen tooth enamel and reduce its loss. Most importantly, you should speak with your child and seek guidance from a professional to help deal with the issue.
If you would like more information about eating disorders and oral health, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Bulimia, Anorexia and Oral Health.”