It is estimated that about 1.1 million men and women in the UK suffer from eating disorders, with the dark figure thought to be even higher, considering that many more keep their problem a secret. A study by the University of Bergen in Norway, showed that patients who suffer from eating disorders, such as Anorexia and Bulimia, experienced substantially more dental health problems. For example, sensitive teeth, severe dental erosion and facial pain compared to those without.
The study underlined that over one in three people (36%) suffering from eating disorders had 'severe dental erosion', compared with 11% in the control group. People with an eating disorder also self-reported that they frequently suffered facial pains and a dry mouth, as well as increased daily tooth sensitivity. The study also shows that even though vomiting is often linked to eating disorders, people's oral health also tends to suffer.
Dr Nigel Carter, Chief Executive of the British Dental Health Foundation explained the reasons for the apparent poor oral health, providing sufferers with some advice:
"When you vomit repeatedly, as with certain eating disorders, it can severely affect oral health. The high levels of acid in the vomit can cause damage to tooth enamel. Acid attacks of this sort on a frequent basis means the saliva in your mouth won't have the opportunity to naturally repair the damage done to your teeth by the contact with the acidic vomit, hence the increased severity of dental erosion witnessed in the study. People suffering with an eating disorder should look to, wherever possible, rinse their mouth as soon as possible after vomiting to help reduce acid effects.
Do not brush immediately after vomiting, as this may brush away softened enamel. The use of fluoride toothpaste will help to protect teeth over time, and by chewing on sugar free gum it will help to increase saliva flow and neutralize acids in the mouth. Your dentist can also prescribe high strength fluoride toothpaste, which will help to protect your teeth. We would highly recommend more frequent visits to the dentist to ensure the problem does not deteriorate further and to identify whether any treatment would be required. If the problem persists, don't be afraid to discuss your problems."
The Anorexia and Bulimia Care support groups are available for advice and support. The Foundation's own 'Tell Me About' leaflet on dental erosion also offers advice on how to maintain oral health.
Eating Disorders Statistics
Written by Petra Rattue