While dentists often talk about tooth decay and more common causes of enamel erosion like overindulging in soft drinks, sugar-filled candy, and more, another underlying concern remains unaddressed - bulimia. People suffering from this condition for extended periods encounter a less-common problem termed tooth erosion.
What is bulimia?
Bulimia is an eating disorder whereby people cause themselves to regurgitate food or take other extreme measures in an attempt to avoid gaining weight. Many times this is preceded by an overindulgence in all sorts of foods called bingeing. It becomes a frantic cycle often called “binge and purge” and causes immense feelings of shame and guilt.
How does bulimia affect teeth?
In cases of bulimia where regurgitation is primarily used, the teeth are regularly immersed in stomach acids. These acids eat away at the tooth enamel for hours after the purging event. Over time this tooth erosion can become visible to others, cause pain, and require major dental work from your dentistry specialist.
Additional oral side effects include mouth sores, acid reflux, ulcers, swollen cheeks and salivary glands, and sore throats. Prolonged exposure to stomach acids can even cause the stomach and esophagus to rupture.
Who does bulimia effect?
Bulimia is not limited to a certain age or gender, but most often affects adolescent women. Due to concerns about appearance, stress, peer pressure, and hormonal imbalances, many young adults turn to bulimia as a solution. However, it can irreparably damage teeth.
How do you recognize bulimia?
People suffering from binge eating have a lack of control and often eat in secret. However, their weight will not change significantly. If you find numerous wrappers, packages, and other indications of an overindulgence in food, bulimia might be the cause.
To deal with this massive food consumption, people suffering from bulimia will often go through periods of fasting, over exercise excessively, use laxatives regularly, or have a tendency to disappear after meals, locking themselves in the bathroom to purge. People may notice a smell of vomit lingering.
In these instances, the teeth will be discolored from exposure to stomach acids and may appear yellow or even clear with spots. If extensive tooth erosion has occurred, their teeth may also look ragged. Other physical signs include puffy cheeks, calluses or scars on the knuckles, and fluctuations in their weight.
What should be done if you or a friend suffers from bulimia?
The first step is to tell someone. The National Eating Disorders Association has a toll-free hotline: 1-800-931-2237. Avoid places that trigger the temptation and seek professional help. If the person suffering from bulimia has not seen a dentist regularly, we advise making an appointment for a consultation.
If you are in the Cambridge area and wish to contact Fresh Pond Dental’s professional staff, they would be happy to fit you in.