Oral Problems Could Signify an Eating Disorder

Individuals suffering from eating disorders typically hide their disease, making it difficult for their doctors to detect. However, a dentist can see the signs that indicate eating disorders, such as ulcers and redness, which patients just can’t disguise. This places dentists in a unique position as a primary care doctor capable of spotting and helping patients suffering from eating disorders.

How Dentist Can Spot Eating Disorders?

Some might find it surprising that a large number of diseases and conditions of the body exhibit symptoms in the oral cavity. Some of these signs are specific to certain types of diseases and help to increase suspicion in alert practitioners. Eating disorders are among the types of conditions that present with classic signs on the teeth and on the soft tissues inside the mouth.

Patients suffering from these types of disorders often try to keep secret their problems and will try to avoid visiting doctors out of fear of being exposed. It’s not uncommon for dentists to be the first medical practitioner to diagnose an eating disorder. Approximately 28 percent of patients suffering from bulimia are first diagnosed during a dental exam, according to the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research.

What are the Potential Oral Symptoms of Eating Disorders?

A dentist will typically identify one or more of the following signs in patients suffering from an eating disorder: redness and/or ulcerations in the mouth, specific wear-patterns on teeth in certain areas of the mouth, soft palate lesions, irritation in the corners of the mouth, decreased saliva production and enlarged parotid glands. Additionally, patients may also complain about sensitive teeth, burning tongue or dry mouth. They may also comment that their teeth appear shorter, a product of gum inflammation.

What Types of Eating Disorders Cause These Symptoms?

Most eating disorders fall into one of two categories, bulimia nervosa and anorexia nervosa. Each type includes subtypes, and many patients show a combination of symptoms that may make it difficult for a dentist to differentiate between bulimia and anorexia. In most cases, these types of disorders may involve the following types of behavior: binge eating, purging and self-induced vomiting and severe calorie restriction. Each of these types of behaviors will cause harmful or destructive side effects that are easily detectable to dentists.

How are Dental Problems Caused by Eating Disorders Treated?

Identifying the problem and referring a patient to the proper medical care is always a dentist’s primary priority. Following a referral, patient education regarding the negative effects of their disorder on oral health in a compassionate manner is paramount. It’s not uncommon for some patients to seek help for their eating disorder once they understand the risk it presents to their oral health. Unfortunately, many of the effects these types of disorders have on a patient’s teeth require caps or fillings to correct, with some advanced cases requiring root canals and even tooth extraction.

If you have any questions about potential signs of eating disorders or their effect on oral health, please feel free to ask Dr. Johnson during your next appointment at Oregon City Dentistry.