People with bulimia nervosa, even adolescents and young adults, often develop dental problems that can cause cosmetic damage as well as more serious medical complications. Without care at something like a comprehensive eating disorder treatment center, these dental issues can easily worsen – along with the many other complications caused by bulimia nervosa.
The good news is that people can nip escalating eating disorder symptom sin the bud, and preserve their dental health before too much damage occurs. To better understand the link between bulimia nervosa and dental issues, it’s necessary to understand what the complications are – and how eating disorder recovery can help prevent dental problems.
Binging and Purging and Their Effects
When people with bulimia nervosa vomit during the binge-purge cycle, their gastric system brings acids into their mouth and throat.These acidic compounds, with repeated exposure to the enamel that lines the teeth, can be the start of various oral and dental issues.
Since exposure to these acids happens so frequently, the enamel cannot rebuild the lost minerals as occurs with normal exposure to acidic foods and drinks. As a result, the enamel can completely erode, exposing the inner tooth and causing staining and sometimes great pain.
Other oral health issues caused by these acids include:
- Dry mouth
- Sore throat
- Enlargement of the salivary glands
- Bleeding gums
- Damage to the soft palate
- Difficulty swallowing
Timeline of Dental Damage Resulting from Untreated Bulimia Nervosa
Erosion of the tooth enamel can happen quite quickly when people with bulimia nervosa frequently engage in self-induced vomiting. Dentists and treatment experts have seen notable erosion of the enamel and dentin within as little as six months of repeated bingeing and purging. The eroded tooth surfaces start to turn a yellow hue as the dentin shows through. Since dentin is much softer than enamel, the damaged teeth may begin to crack and chip away.
At this point, cavities can easily form deep in the dentin and root of the tooth, often requiring, removal, a root canal, or other restorative procedures. As the damage continues, the only option remaining is to replace the damaged teeth with implants or dentures. Since a decline in dental health happens so rapidly, and because the damage is permanent, even adolescents can be a risk of long-lasting dental issues if the disordered behavior continues.
Complications Caused by Enamel Erosion
Enamel erosion can negatively impact the quality of life in many ways, though treatment at eating disorder recovery centers and care from a skilled dental professional can help. As enamel erosion turns teeth yellow and damages their structure, self-confidence levels often start to plummet. This can exacerbate existing body image issues and trigger disordered thought patterns and behaviors. Also, the worsening dental damage makes it difficult to hide or explain away, resulting in increased isolation and the deterioration of social networks.
Advanced enamel erosion leaves the dentin completed exposed in some areas, increasing sensitivity to hot and cold. Some people may even find it painful to eat or drink hot and cold substances as the enamel breaks down. These individuals may then find it difficult to follow a healthy daily diet that does not exacerbate their dental problems. Even brushing and flossing can cause pain after enamel erosion has progressed to an advanced state.
All of these problems tend to continue to worsen over time until people with bulimia nervosa acquire care at quality eating disorder facilities.
Dentists Can Help – and So Can Eating Disorder Treatment Centers
While many of the issues described here can be treated by dentists, it’s better to prevent them altogether by addressing bulimia nervosa itself. Through comprehensive treatment programs at eating disorder treatment centers, people can stop engaging in the disordered eating behaviors that are causing dental erosion in the first place. Simply put, keeping the gastric acids in the stomach keeps the teeth safe. Aside from allowing dentists to begin the restoration process, stopping the disordered behavior driven by bulimia nervosa adds years to the individual’s life. If you or a loved one has bulimia nervosa, don’t wait, rather seek help or find an eating disorder treatment center right away.