Bulimia is struggle that an estimated 1-4% of the American population faces. This eating disorder has damaging and life threatening side effects to the body, but one area that may be overlooked by both recovery programs and bulimics alike is oral health. Because bulimia deals with a cycle of binging and purging, the tooth decay can happen very quickly. It's important that those who struggle with bulimia do additional reading and learn what habits are detrimental to tooth health, and what can be done to repair teeth during recovery from this eating disorder.
What causes tooth decay in bulimics?
Besides normal oral hygiene habits, those who are fighting bulimia also have the added challenge created by purging. Vomit is full of partially digested food, which can get stuck in the teeth, as well as stomach acids and bile, both of which can wear down the protective enamel and the soft dentin on the teeth.
Progressive destruction of the teeth becomes very serious, as it leads to periodontal diseases and can weaken the teeth, so they are more prone to breaking or falling out. According to one dentist, even biting into a pretzel can be dangerous for people who have teeth damaged by bulimia.
What can be done to protect the teeth?
If you are struggling with this eating disorder, you can protect your teeth by:
- Refraining from brushing your teeth after a purge. This may seem counter-intuitive, but the the acids from your stomach are fast acting, and if you brush, you risk doing more damage. You may be tempted to brush your teeth to try to cover up an episode, but it is better for your body if you simply rinse out your mouth with water.
- Eating foods that are high in calcium, and avoiding sugary things. When your teeth are already decaying, you want to give them the foods that will do the least amount of damage. Try not to eat candy or drink soda if you are recovering from bulimia, and focus instead on eating low-fat dairy products or leafy greens, like spinach.
- Trusting your dentist. 28% percent of bulimic cases are diagnosed or "caught" by a dental exam, because the symptoms easily point to frequent vomiting. Some people with this condition may avoid the dentist for this reason; they don't want to be found out. However, not only can your dentist refer you to get the help that you need to beat this disorder, but also provide you with a dental care regimen to help get your teeth back on track.
What can you do to recover your smile?
Before your dentist can provide any restoration for your teeth, it's essential that you seek help to break the binge-purge cycle. It's important to recover from actively vomiting because restoration of the teeth will not be very effective if the teeth continue to be damaged by this behavior. After you have made significant progress, your dentist may suggest:
- Dentures. Dentures are the best solution for those who have been struggling with bulimia for years. Sometimes the teeth are just too damaged to repair, and so most may be removed, and the patient will be fitted with dentures.
- Veneers. Tooth veneers are like thin, tooth-colored skins that adhere to the existing structure of the tooth. These are best for patients whose enamel is worn down or discolored. They are usually made from porcelain.
- Implants. When some teeth are more far gone than others, the dentist may remove the worst teeth, whose roots have already begun to decay, and install implants in their place. Implants are false teeth that adhere to the bones in the mouth, and are the most like real teeth once the procedure is complete.
After your recovery from bulimia, there are ways to make sure you get your smile back. Don't be afraid to visit your dentist often during your recovery, and talk to them about restoration options.