Dentists often first to spot eating disorders in patients

Jan. 27, 2009
Delta Dental Plans Association wants to increase awareness of the potential oral health problems that can be caused by eating disorders.

OAK BROOK, Illinois--National Eating Disorders Awareness Week, sponsored by the National Eating Disorders Association, runs Feb. 22–28, 2009.

The week's aim is to raise awareness of the dangers surrounding eating disorders and the need for early intervention and treatment. Because Delta Dental Plans Association recognizes eating disorders as a serious health-care concern, it also wants to increase awareness of the potential oral health problems that can be caused by eating disorders.

An eating disorder is a complex compulsion to eat in a way which disturbs physical, mental, and psychological health. The three most common eating disorders are anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa and binge eating disorder.

The eating may be excessive (compulsive over-eating), restrictive, or may include normal eating punctuated with episodes of purging (such as self-induced vomiting, use of laxatives, fasting, diuretics or diet pills). The eating may include cycles of binging and purging; or may encompass the ingesting of non-foods (such as dirt, clay or chalk).

Each of these disorders robs the body of adequate minerals, vitamins, proteins and other nutrients needed for good health and may cause injury to teeth, muscles and major organs.

"Eating disorders have serious implications for oral health and overall health," said Max Anderson, DDS, a national oral health advisor for Delta Dental Plans Association.

"Stomach acids can damage teeth with repeated exposures during purging for those individuals with bulimia nervosa. For those individuals with anorexia nervosa, which is characterized by self-induced starvation, poor nutrition can affect oral health by increasing the risk for periodontal [gum] diseases."

As many as 35 million men, women and children suffer from eating disorders in the United States. Dentists are becoming the first line of defense when it comes to spotting eating disorders in patients, according to the Academy of General Dentistry.

For example, although parents may not recognize that their child is anorexic or bulimic, they are often still taking the child to a dentist on a regular schedule and the dentist may spot the oral signs of the disease.

Bad breath, sensitive teeth and eroded tooth enamel are just a few of the signs that dentists use to determine whether a patient suffers from an eating disorder.

Other signs include teeth that are worn and appear almost translucent, mouth sores, dry mouth, cracked lips, bleeding gums, and tender mouth, throat and salivary glands.

According to the National Eating Disorders Association, studies have found up to 89 percent of bulimic patients have signs of tooth erosion, due to the effects of stomach acid. Over time, this loss of tooth enamel can be considerable, and the teeth change color, shape, and length.

"Delta Dental Plans Association supports providing appropriate referral for those individuals with signs and symptoms of eating disorders and encourages those with eating disorders, or those who are caring for individuals with eating disorders to seek care from a dental professional to manage the dental consequences of these disorders," Anderson said.

For more information on Delta Dental Plans Association, go to Delta Dental Plans Association.

To read more about eating disorders, go to eating disorders.

To comment on this subject, go to PennWell Dental Community site.

References available from Delta Dental Plans Association upon request.