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How Your Dentist Can Detect an Eating Disorder


With as many as 35 million men and women suffering from eating disorders in the United States, more dentists are becoming the first line of defense when it comes to spotting eating disorders in patients, according to the May 2005 issue of AGD Impact, the newsmagazine of the Academy of General Dentistry (AGD).


Bad breath, sensitive teeth and tooth erosion are just a few of the signs that dentists use to determine whether a patient suffers from an eating disorder.


"Purging episodes bring stomach acids up through the mouth. The damage from purging mostly occurs inside the upper front teeth in the form of erosion of the tooth's enamel, sensitivity, thinning and chipping," says AGD spokesperson Maharukh Kravich, DDS, AGD.


The National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) estimates that nearly 10 million women and 1 million men are affected by anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa. Another 25 million suffer from binge-eating disorders.


Dentists who detect patients with eating disorders may recommend therapists and teach the patients how to minimize the effects of purging (a clear indicator of bulimia). For example, patients should immediately rinse their mouth with soda water or use a sugar-free mouthrinse. Patients should swish water around their mouth if nothing else is available and brush with a soft toothbrush and fluoride toothpaste.


"This is especially helpful if the signs of eating disorders are caught early," says Dr. Kravich.


Sometimes, eating disorders may not be discovered until too late, after irreversible damage has been done to the body as well as the teeth. According to NEDA, early detection of the disease may ensure a smoother and successful recovery period for the body and the teeth.


Although parents may not recognize that their children are anorexic or bulimic, they are often still taking the child to a dentist on a regular schedule.


"Parents that suspect a child suffers from one of these disorders should consider visiting a dentist," says Julie Barna, DMD, MAGD. "He or she should be able to spot the warning signs and help point you in the direction to get help."


Signs of an eating disorder:


  • Bad breath
  • Tender mouth, throat and salivary glands
  • Eroded tooth enamel
  • Teeth that are worn and appear almost translucent
  • Mouth sores
  • Dry mouth
  • Cracked lips
  • Bleeding gums
  • Sensitive teeth

Reviewed: January 2012