If you're struggling with bulimia, your dentist is probably not top of your list of people to discuss your illness with. However, they can support you to maintain your dental health, so let them know. Your dentist will not divulge anything you share with them to colleagues or other patients but can advise you on steps you can take to protect your teeth and gums from the corrosive hydrochloric acid they are exposed to when you vomit. Here's an overview of how bulimia can impact on your dental health and a few of the ways your dentist can support you:
The Effects Of Bulimia On Dental Health
Dental signs of bulimia include the following:
- Acid Erosion - When you vomit, you expose your teeth to stomach acid, which erodes your tooth enamel over time. As enamel begins to erode, you may notice your teeth become sensitive to hot and cold drinks and they may appear discoloured. Without the enamel to protect your teeth, bacteria are free to attack and this puts you at an increased risk of developing decay and dental abscesses.
- Reduction In Saliva - Dehydration from frequent vomiting and using laxatives can leave you with a dry mouth. This doesn't sound serious, but your mouth needs a healthy flow of saliva to keep bacteria levels in check. Your saliva is alkaline and creates an inhospitable environment for bacteria, and when bacteria levels get out of hand you're at an increased risk of developing gum disease. Gum disease occurs when bacteria binds to food debris and forms plaque, which sticks to your teeth and gums and causes inflammation.
- Tissue Irritation - Frequent vomiting can irritate the delicate tissue of your mouth, leaving you with cracked lips and red patches around the inside of your mouth. This localised irritation can be painful, but it also creates a situation in which bacterial and fungal infections can easily take hold.
How Your Dentist Can Help You Maintain Your Oral Health
Your dentist can give you advice based on the signs of dental damage they are able to observe when examining your teeth and they can discuss protective measures with you. Here are a few examples of how your dentist can help:
- Protective Products - Dentists can advise you on products that can protect your teeth from the effects of acid and bacteria. They may recommend you use toothpaste that encourages the re-mineralisation of tooth enamel or provide fluoride gel, which forms a protective barrier, for you to apply to your teeth. They can also work with you to formulate a xylitol treatment plan. Xylitol reduces the bacteria in your mouth and can be used after meals or after you vomit.
- Oral Hygiene Regime - Patients with bulimia often think they are protecting their teeth if they brush immediately after vomiting, but this can cause damage to teeth already weakened by acid erosion. Your dentist can recommend an oral hygiene regime that will afford your teeth the best protection possible in your situation. For example, they may suggest you rinse your mouth with sodium bicarbonate as soon as you vomit as this can lower the acid in your mouth.
- Restorations - If some of your teeth have already lost a significant amount of enamel, your dentist can use crowns or composite resins to protect the affected teeth from further damage.
If you're concerned about the impact of bulimia on your dental health, schedule an appointment with your dentist for a thorough assessment of your teeth and gums.