National Eating Disorders Awareness Week is observed this year from Feb. 21-27. It’s one of America’s lesser-known “health holidays,” which is why it’s so important to raise awareness. In the U.S., 20 million women and 10 million men suffer from a serious eating disorder at some time in their life, according to the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA).
Anorexia, bulimia and other eating disorders can wreak havoc on an individual’s oral health. Lack of nutrition can lead to tooth damage, and can cause gums and other soft tissue inside the mouth to bleed easily. Swollen saliva glands may cause chronic dry mouth, which also damages teeth. Among bulimic patients, up to 89% show signs of tooth erosion because of the effects of stomach acid, according to NEDA.
Because we focus on the teeth and gums, dentists are on the “front lines” of identifying eating disorders that have gone undiagnosed. Future of Dentistry’s staff is trained to look out for symptoms of eating disorders. If we see any warning signs, the doctor will gently ask questions to determine if in fact there is a problem. If needed, the doctor will raise his or her concerns with the patient (or the patient’s parent) in a sensitive manner.
In addition to suggesting resources for the patient, we can recommend options for improving the patient’s oral health. These steps may range from avoiding excessive drinking of acidic diet soda to being fitted for a custom mouth guard.
If you suffer from an eating disorder, or have had one in the past, please tell your dentist. By addressing the problem head-on, we can help you protect your oral health and promote your overall wellbeing.