Sunday, February 22, 2009

Dentists Often First To Spot Eating Disorders In Patients

Delta Dental of Illinois wants to call attention to the dangers surrounding eating disorders and the need for early intervention and treatment during National Eating Disorders Awareness Week -- Feb. 22 - 28. Eating disorders are a serious healthcare concern and can cause a variety of oral health complications.

As many as 35 million men, women and children suffer from eating disorders in the United States. Dentists are becoming the first line of defense when it comes to spotting eating disorders in patients, according to the Academy of General Dentistry.

An eating disorder is a complex compulsion to eat in a way which disturbs physical, mental, and psychological health. The three most common eating disorders are anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa and binge eating disorder. The eating may be excessive (compulsive over eating); restrictive; or may include normal eating punctuated with episodes of purging(1) (such as self-induced vomiting, use of laxatives, fasting, diuretics or diet pills(2)). The eating may include cycles of binging and purging; or may encompass the ingesting of non-foods(1) (such as dirt, clay or chalk).(3)

"A parent may not recognize a child is anorexic or bulimic, however, through a routine dental checkup, a dentist may spot the oral signs of the disease," said Dr. Katina Morelli, D.D.S., dental director for Delta Dental of Illinois. "Eating disorders have serious implications for oral health and overall health so when dentists see the symptoms of eating disorders we encourage our patients to seek help."

Bad breath, sensitive teeth and eroded tooth enamel are just a few of the signs that dentists use to determine whether a patient suffers from an eating disorder. Other signs include teeth that are worn and appear almost translucent, mouth sores, dry mouth, cracked lips, bleeding gums, and tender mouth, throat and salivary glands.(4) Any of these symptoms can alert a dentist to a potential eating disorder.

Eating disorders rob the body of minerals, vitamins, proteins and other nutrients needed for good health and may cause injury to teeth, muscles and major organs.(1) Stomach acids can damage teeth with repeated exposures during purging for those individuals with bulimia nervosa. For those individuals with anorexia nervosa, which is characterized by self-induced starvation, poor nutrition can affect oral health by increasing the risk for periodontal [gum] diseases.

According to the National Eating Disorders Association, studies have found up to 89 percent of bulimic patients have signs of tooth erosion, due to the effects of stomach acid.(5) Over time, this loss of tooth enamel can be considerable, and the teeth change color, shape and length.

"Delta Dental of Illinois supports providing appropriate referrals to counselors or clinics for people with signs and symptoms of eating disorders," said Dr. Morelli. "We encourage those with eating disorders, or those who are caring for individuals with eating disorders to seek care from a dental professional to restore a healthy mouth."

To find out more about oral health complications due to eating disorders, contact your dentist. Find a Delta Dental dentist by visiting http://www.deltadentalil.com and clicking on the "Dentist Search" link.

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