Can a Dentist Detect Bulimia?

The condition of your mouth can be a helpful indicator of what is going on with rest of your body. In fact, there are certain symptoms within the teeth and gums that can point to an eating disorder called bulimia. Bulimia involves self-induced vomiting after binging on food. While most bulimic patients do their best to hide their condition, these repeated episodes of purging or vomiting can produce visible signs on the teeth over time.

If you are vomiting regularly, you are introducing strong stomach acids inside your mouth on a too-frequent basis. Your teeth are strong, but the enamel is not meant to stand up against such acidic properties each day. Eventually, the mineral content of the enamel breaks down or softens, which is called enamel erosion. Up to 90% of bulimics develop enamel erosion.

In most cases, the pattern of enamel erosion includes heavier erosion on the inside of the upper front teeth. This is due to that fact that the tongue typically covers or shields the back molars during vomiting episodes. It is common for bulimics to brush their teeth immediately after purging, as they are often overly concerned with their appearance and they may want to quickly cover up signs of their disorder. Unfortunately, brushing the teeth before the acids are neutralized can do even more damage, as it acts as abrasive scrubbing against the enamel as it cleans. It is the same danger you’d face if you brushed your teeth immediately after drinking a glass of orange juice. It is better to wait an hour, or drink water before brushing.

Beyond enamel erosion, there are other signs that can help a dentist detect bulimia. Many have soft tissue ulceration or swollen salivary glands that create puffiness in the face. In addition, the roof of the mouth, throat and back of the tongue may look rougher than normal due to objects (or fingers) that are repeatedly used to induce vomiting.

At Village Dental in NYC, we always look for any oral health signs that point to habits, disorders or conditions within the body. If we suspect bulimia with you or one of your family members, we will do our part to not only repair the dental damage, but to enlist professional help from an eating disorder specialist.

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