Some individuals with eating disorders may be able to outwardly hide their affliction, but there is one place where an eating disorder cannot be disguised – the mouth. Your oral health reflects your nutritional habits and lifestyle choices, and holistic dentists in particular will be adept at identifying any suspect symptoms that could indicate a bigger threat to your overall well-being.
Here are eight ways your holistic dentist can tell if someone has an eating disorder:
- Enamel erosion: Tooth erosion is common among bulimics. Repeated vomiting causes stomach acids to wash over the teeth. Done too often, this practice will begin dissolving tooth enamel, and that leads to tooth decay. Your teeth can change in other ways too – shape, length, and translucency will be altered. Plus, your teeth can become weak and brittle, breaking off at the edges. The loss of enamel makes teeth more sensitive, so the consumption of hot or cold foods can be uncomfortable. Erosion is also exacerbated by a habit of frequently and aggressively brushing teeth after vomiting.
- Frequent cavities: A dependence on energy drinks or overconsumption of acidic “diet” foods such as fruits, nuts, seeds, and little else can keep your mouth awash in sugars and acids. You might seem like the healthiest athlete and the best eater to others, but in reality your harmful eating habits are compromising your oral health.
- Gum disease: The nutrients that promote oral health include iron, calcium, and B vitamins. If you have insufficient calcium, gum disease and tooth decay are more likely. And anorexia patients, even if they consume enough calcium, may not have enough vitamin D in their body to absorb the calcium properly. Red and swollen gums are signs of gingivitis – early gum disease. This condition is painful enough. Not taking action will only make the situation that much worse and could, if not addressed, lead to tooth loss.
- Mouth sores: If you are low on iron, the development of sores inside the mouth is more likely. Canker sores are also a result of insufficient amounts of vitamin B3.
- Bleeding gums: Being low on certain vitamins and minerals is a direct result of an unbalanced diet, not eating enough, or purging yourself of the food you do eat. Nutritional deficiencies will interfere with gum health, causing your gums to bleed more easily. Bleeding gums are also a sign of gum disease.
- Poor saliva production: Poor nutrition can cause saliva glands to swell, which can lead to chronic dry mouth. It’s critical for there to be enough of the right kind of saliva in your mouth at all times to keep your teeth moist and “rinsed” off, thereby preventing bacteria and plaque from settling on your teeth and keeping bad breath at bay. Enlarged salivary glands are painful and sometimes visible to others. A binging and purging cycle is often responsible for this problem.
- Dry mouth: Not only does poor saliva production and purging create a dry mouth, dehydration is also a cause. And if you are purging often or aren’t hydrating or eating the right foods, you are in danger of developing a dry mouth as well as dry and cracked lips.
- Scratched mouth: There aren’t many daily behaviors or even health conditions that cause scratches or cuts inside the mouth – particularly the upper surface of the mouth, known as the soft palate. The presence of these cuts in the mouth is a very strong sign to a dentist that the patient they’re seeing has an eating disorder, most likely bulimia, because the forced act of purging by pushing the fingers into the throat is what causes redness and scratches.
Being asked to be accountable for your damaging habits, or having a dentist identify a suspected eating disorder in a teen patient, is never easy to accept. But there are ways to maintain your oral health while managing this disease and accepting treatment for it, including meticulous brushing and flossing and regular dental exams that include honest – and confidential – communication with your holistic dentist.
Know that visiting Dr. Yolanda Cintron at the International Center for Dental Excellence is a safe environment. Dr. Cintron is interested not only in your oral health but your overall well-being, and she takes her responsibility as a member of your medical team seriously. Be honest about the oral health problems you’re experiencing, and their possible causes. If you want to maintain a natural and healthy smile and not put yourself in danger of long-term oral health problems, talk to Dr. Cintron.