The modern pressure to adhere to a strict (impossible) beauty standard can be intense. Professionals estimate that 30 million people of all ages and genders suffer from an eating disorder in America. Eating disorders are a severe mental health problem with far-reaching effects. A serious decline in oral health is just one of many of these effects.
What are eating disorders?
On the most basic level, an eating disorder is when someone has an unhealthy preoccupation with food, weight, and body image. This manifests in several different ways, but all lead to further health complications. Eating disorders are diagnosable mental health conditions and should be taken seriously.
- Anorexia nervosa– Anorexia is an eating disorder where a person has extremely high anxiety about their weight. They severely limit their food intake and rob their body of essential nutrition.
- Bulimia nervosa– Bulimia also causes an unhealthy preoccupation with weight gain. Individuals suffering from bulimia lack self-regulation which leads to cycles of binge-eating and purging. Binge-eating means eating excessively without regard for hunger or fullness cues. After a binge-eating phase, someone suffering from bulimia will immediately purge, either by forcing themselves to vomit, exercise excessively, or taking laxatives.
- Binge-eating disorder (BED)– BED is when a person eats excessively with a compulsion and feels out of control or unable to stop. People suffering from BED will eat more food than should normally be consumed and keep eating until they are uncomfortably full. This often results in shame and embarrassment over their inability to control their impulse to consume.
- Other– Experts are discovering a range of less common, but still harmful disorders around food and eating. These include ARFID (extremely picky eaters), Diabulimia (diabetics misusing insulin), and night-eating syndrome.
How do they affect your teeth?
The health of your mouth and teeth teeth relies on proper nutrition. People who suffer from an eating disorder frequently lack the proper nutrition for their body to function correctly. Poor nutrition can lead to inflamed, bleeding gums, bone loss, dry mouth and bad breath.
Damage to your mouth
Frequent purging can be really damaging to your mouth. Stomach acid wears away at tooth enamel and irritates and inflames gum tissue. It can cause lesions in the soft tissues of your mouth. Teeth can wear down enough that they become brittle, thin, and misshapen. Vomiting can even wear your teeth down enough that the sensitive pulp is exposed, leading to sensitive teeth and much greater risk of infection.
Additionally, It’s common for individuals who engage in purging behavior to have scratches, cuts, and bruises on their soft palette. This comes from repeated, violent attempts to gag themselves.
With poor nutrition and an overactive jaw from binging and purging cycles, it is common to see degenerative arthritis in the TMJ joint. The TMJ joint is the hinge where your lower jaw attaches to your skull. Overuse of the TMJ joint can cause pain, stiffness, headaches and difficulty closing your jaw. Your bones rely on regular, holistic nutrition, and people who suffer from eating disorders are very likely to experience bone loss as a result of poor nutrition.
If you or someone you love is struggling with an eating disorder, please seek help. There are many far-reaching effects of eating disorders, with poor oral health being just one among them. There is a 24 hour helpline for those with eating disorders and those who love them to get them help. Every 62 minutes someone dies as a direct result of an eating disorder. It is possible to heal from this mental health disorder and live a full, healthy life. Take time to save your life, or the life of someone you love by getting help.