Bulimia (or bulimia nervosa) is an eating disorder that is characterised by episodes of binge-eating or the consumption of large amounts of food in a short time span; this binge-eating episode is then followed by forced purging which is usually done by forcing oneself to vomit, or by taking diuretics or laxatives to rid the body of the huge amounts of food consumed. Excessive exercising and fasting are other ways used by those suffering who have bulimia to purge or get rid of the food consumed during the binge eating episode. Bulimia is associated with feelings of self-loathing and guilt, and is known to occur more often in women than in men.
Although bulimia is considered to be a psychiatric concern, the dental health of a person with bulimia is also greatly and negatively affected. There are times when the dentist is the first medical professional to detect this eating disorder, due to the signs that can be seen on the patient’s teeth, the throat, the salivary glands, the lips, and the roof of the mouth.
Bulimia Nervosa: the Complex Disorder as Explained by a Psychiatrist
Dental Problems Associated with Bulimia
- Erosion of the tooth enamel – the protective tooth enamel is eroded over time in patients who have bulimia. This is due to the repeated exposure of the tooth enamel to corrosive gastric juices present in vomit (the result of forced purging after a binge-eating episode). The tooth enamel erosion results to a very smooth, glossy-looking outer tooth surface that does not have grooves or lines; when the enamel gets eroded, the affected teeth becomes more susceptible to tooth sensitivity, and tooth decay. Loose teeth can also result from enamel erosion.
- Sensitive Teeth – those who have bulimia are more likely to experience tooth sensitivity, as the protective tooth enamel becomes eroded with the passage of time due to exposure to gastric juices (present in vomit). The roots of the teeth can become exposed when the tooth enamel is worn away, making the teeth sensitive to changes in temperature.
- Tooth decay – tooth decay is common in persons suffering from bulimia, as the tooth enamel is worn down with the passage of time by gastric juices. Tooth decay can also be the result of the decrease in the production of saliva, which in turn contributes to the multiplication of bacteria that can cause plaque to build up.
- Dry mouth – a person with bulimia often experiences a dry mouth problem, as saliva production can be negatively affected with the use of diuretics and laxatives. Vomiting and fasting can also cause dehydration, which in turn leads to a dry mouth condition.
- Dental infections – bulimia patients are more susceptible to infections involving both the teeth and the gums, due to dehydration and exposure to harmful gastric juices. Infections may also be caused when the oral cavity is exposed to foreign objects when vomiting is induced.
- Gum disease – bleeding gums and gum disease may be experienced by bulimia sufferers, as the gums are also exposed to corrosive gastric juices every time purging by vomiting is done. Gum tissue – as well as the tissues on the soft palate – can also be injured when large amounts of food are forcefully stuffed inside the mouth (during episodes of binge-eating), and when a foreign/sharp/hard object is inserted into the mouth to force vomiting (during the purging stage). Dehydration that comes from fasting, as well as the repeated or frequent use of laxatives and diuretics for purging, can also have a negative effect on gum health.
- Swollen salivary gland – the salivary or parotid gland can become swollen in those who suffer from bulimia. The degree of swelling is affected by the frequency, severity, and duration of vomiting episodes.
Find a Dentist for Bulimia Dental Treatments
There are several ways to find a dentist in your local area who can help you with bulimia dental concerns. You can:
- Text the word “dentist” or “NHSGO”, and send it to 64746. You can expect to receive up to three text messages in response, with details of the NHS dentists that are located near your local area.
- Search for dentists who are located near your area by going to this link to the NHS website.
- Call NHS Direct on 0845 4647.
If you suffer from bulimia, or if you know someone who is going through this experience, please do speak to a professional about it. There are people who can help you fight this disorder, who will understand what you are going through – and who will be able to guide you towards an overall healthier life in the most caring ways possible.
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