Eating Disorders & Oral Health

Online Dental Education Library

Ones healthy smile depends on simple dental care habits, such as brushing and flossing. Please follow these steps to protect you and your loved ones oral health.

Brushing for proper oral health

Consider these brushing basics from the American Dental Association:

Brush your teeth at least twice a day. When you brush, don’t rush. Take enough time to do a thorough job.

Use the proper equipment. Use a fluoride toothpaste and a soft-bristled toothbrush that fits your mouth comfortably. Consider using an electric or battery-operated toothbrush, especially if you have arthritis or other problems that make it difficult to brush effectively.

Practice good technique. Hold your toothbrush at a slight angle against your teeth and brush with short back-and-forth motions. Remember to brush the inside and chewing surfaces of your teeth, as well as your tongue. Avoid vigorous or harsh scrubbing, which can irritate your gums.

Keep your equipment clean. Always rinse your toothbrush with water after brushing. Store your toothbrush in an upright position, if possible, and allow it to air dry until using it again. Don’t routinely cover toothbrushes or store them in closed containers, which can encourage the growth of bacteria.

Know when to replace your toothbrush. Invest in a new toothbrush or a replacement head for your electric or battery-operated toothbrush every three to four months — or sooner if the bristles become frayed.

Flossing for proper oral health

You can’t reach the tight spaces between your teeth or under your gumline with a toothbrush. That’s why daily flossing is important. When you floss:

Don’t skimp. Break off about 18 inches (46 centimeters) of dental floss. Wind most of the floss around the middle finger on one hand, and the rest around the middle finger on the other hand — leaving about 1 inch (3 centimeters) to floss your first tooth.

Take it one tooth at a time. Use your thumbs and forefingers to gently pull the floss from the gumline to the top of the tooth to scrape off plaque. Rub the floss against all sides of the tooth. Unwind to fresh floss as you progress to the next tooth.

Keep it up. If you have trouble getting floss through your teeth, try the waxed variety. If it’s hard to manipulate the floss, use a floss holder or an interdental cleaner — such as a dental pick or stick designed to clean between the teeth.

Vomiting.Millions of people in the United States, particularly teenage girls and young women, suffer from health-threatening eating disorders, and dentists are often the first to spot the signs. Why? The repeated, self-induced vomiting that characterizes bulimia nervosa has a pronounced effect on teeth. Anorexia nervosa (self-starvation) can also have some noticeable effects on oral health.

More than 90% of those with bulimia experience tooth erosion. This is caused by acid from the stomach, which can dissolve the enamel when it comes in contact with teeth during vomiting. Teeth that have lost enamel can appear worn, chip easily, and become sensitive to hot and/or cold. Of course, acid erosion can also affect people who drink a lot of soda, sports drinks and energy drinks — even the diet varieties. But acid erosion in bulimics has a particular pattern: It is evident on the upper front teeth, particularly on the tongue side and biting edges. The bottom teeth, on the other hand, tend to be protected by the tongue when a person throws up.

Once enamel is lost, it can't grow back. But the damage can be repaired with various restorative techniques including veneers and/or crowns. The best treatment will be determined by how extensive the damage is, which in turn depends on how frequently the person has engaged in binge-purge behavior.

To protect teeth in the short term, it is important not to brush them immediately after vomiting as this can scrape off more of the softened enamel. It is better to rinse with water to which a little baking soda has been added, which neutralizes the acid. Even a plain water rinse is helpful. Sometimes a sodium fluoride mouthrinse is recommended to strengthen the enamel and reduce its loss.

Erosion is not the only sign of an eating disorder that a dentist or hygienist may notice. In severe cases the salivary glands can become enlarged, causing the sides of the face under the ears to look puffy. Also, the throat, back of the tongue and roof of the mouth can appear reddened or otherwise traumatized from the use of fingers or other objects to induce gagging. Soft tissues of the mouth can also be damaged by acid.

Only about 20% of anorexics experience tooth erosion, but there are other signs that may become apparent in the dental office. Nutrition and hygiene suffer in general, which in turn can mean more tooth decay and gum disease. There is also considerable overlap between anorexia and bulimia.

If you are struggling with an eating disorder or believe that a loved one is, please let your healthcare professionals know. We will make sure you get the help you need for healthy teeth and a healthy life. You can also visit the National Eating Disorders Association for some helpful information.

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Bulimia Anorexia - Dear Doctor Magazine

Bulimia, Anorexia & Oral Health Eating disorders, particularly bulimia nervosa, can leave telltale signs on the teeth that dentists and hygienists are trained to spot. The frequency with which a person engages in binge-purge behavior will determine how seriously the teeth are affected... Read Article