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How eating disorders can affect your mouth

  • A blog on how eating disorders can affect your mouth: and how your dental team can help spot early signs.

    By Sophia Courtaux

Eating disorders such as anorexia, bulimia and binge eating disorders all have negative effects on the mouth, their symptoms can range from slight to severe.

It has been announced that hospital admissions for eating disorders have increased by 84% in the last five years reaching a total of 24,268 admissions. New Royal College of Psychiatrists’ analysis of hospital data for eating disorders show 11,049 more admissions in 2020/21 compared to 2015/16.

To address this problem The Royal College of Psychiatrists recently launched a new Medical Emergencies in Eating Disorders guidance for frontline staff so that people with eating disorders needing urgent care can be identified and treated earlier.

What is anorexia?

Anorexia (or anorexia nervosa) is a serious mental illness where people are of low weight due to limiting how much they eat and drink. They may develop “rules” around what they feel they can and cannot eat, as well as things like when and where they will eat. 

Typical characteristics may include exercising a lot, vomiting or taking laxatives to get rid of the food they have eaten.

What is Bulimia?

Bulimia (or bulimia nervosa) is a serious illness where people are caught in a cycle of eating large quantities of food (called bingeing), and then trying to compensate for that overeating by vomiting, taking laxatives or diuretics, fasting, or exercising excessively.

 What is binge eating disorder (BED)?

Binge eating disorder is a serious illness where people eat very large quantities of food over a short period of time without feeling like they are in control of what they are doing. 

Unlike people who suffer with Bulimia, they do not usually follow this by getting rid of the food through, for example vomiting, though sometimes they might fast between binges.

How can eating disorders affect the health of your mouth?

All of these serious eating disorders sadly affect your health and can be detrimental to your body and should be treated as serious health conditions.

Things to look out for

  • Enamel erosion this can be caused by acid attack. Enamel is the hard protective coating of the tooth, which protects the sensitive dentine underneath. When enamel is worn away, the dentine underneath is exposed which can lead to pain and sensitivity.
  • Dry mouth
  • Enlarged salivary glands
  • Cracked/dry lips
  • Mouth sores
  • Tooth decay known as cavities/caries are permanently damaged areas in the hard surface of your teeth that develop into tiny openings or holes.
  • Sensitive teeth
  • Bruising and/or injury to the mouth

How can your dental team help?

Dentists, dental hygienists, therapists, dental nurses are in a good position to recognise the early warning signs of eating disorders.

During your dental check-up they carry out checks on the hard and soft tissues of the mouth and look for signs of tooth erosion and possible injuries to the mouth.

As well as erosion through stomach acid they will also be able to detect things such as tooth decay from excess sugar consumption and signs of nutrient deficiencies.

It is really important to be open and honest with your dental team so they are in a position to go through the clinical signs they are seeing in your mouth with you and may prescribe high fluoride toothpaste or varnish to protect your teeth from decay.

Please note that this blog post is in no way intended to treat or diagnose an eating disorder. If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, please seek help from your GP. 

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