Acid Erosion on Teeth and Other Dental Problems Associated with Eating Disorders

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As many as 24 million Americans are affected by eating disorders. They are more common in women, but men account for about 15 percent of the total. The spectrum of eating disorders includes binge eating disorder (BED), anorexia nervosa (AN), and bulimia nervosa (BN). Binge-eating behaviors are most common. Bulimia and anorexia are less common but are associated with more severe medical and dental complications such as tooth loss and acid erosion on teeth. To improve diagnosis and clinical utility, definitions of these common eating disorders were recently revised.

Diagnostic Criteria for Eating Disorders

Binge-eating disorder includes repeated episodes of eating very large amounts of food without attempts to prevent weight gain such as self-induced vomiting or laxative use. Binge eaters may also feel out of control or suffer feelings of shame or guilt for their behaviors. Eating when not hungry, consuming food to the point of physical discomfort, or eating alone are common. Bulimia nervosa manifests similar symptoms but also includes self-induced vomiting after eating to prevent weight gain. Anorexia nervosa, the most immediately life threatening of the disorders, has the highest mortality rate of all psychiatric conditions. Victims often adopt extreme diets or refuse to eat. This self-starvation leads to emaciation and a number of serious medical complications. Anorexic individuals typically have a distorted body image and a pathological fear of weight gain.

Anorexia and Bulimia Effects on Teeth

Although eating disorders cause a number of clinical symptoms, the first person to notice the problem is often the patient’s dentist. Bulimia effects on teeth are caused by frequent exposure of enamel to stomach acids contained in vomit; acids erode tooth enamel rapidly and lead to cavities, tooth discoloration and tooth loss. Bulimic teeth typically look worn and yellow. In anorexic individuals, starvation leads to osteoporosis, which can weaken the bones that support teeth and cause tooth loss. Acid erosion on teeth and other anorexia and bulimia effects on teeth can be corrected with cosmetic dentistry, but treating the underlying condition is essential for restoring health and preventing serious medical complications.

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