It can be hard to tell if a loved one is suffering from bulimia nervosa, a type of eating disorder. As the Office on Women's Health points out, people with bulimia are usually at a normal weight and are usually very good at hiding their binges and purges.
The person who may be the first to notice bulimia side effects is a dentist. Many people with bulimia purge to avoid weight gain by self-inducing vomiting. Regular and repeated exposure to the acid found in vomit can have a negative effect on a person's oral health. If you are concerned that a loved on has the eating disorder, here are a few common dental side effects to look out for.
One of the more common bulimia side effects, particularly in people who self-induce vomiting, is enamel erosion. The American Dental Association notes that erosion of the tooth enamel is reported in more than 90 percent of bulimia cases.
According to an article published in the Journal of Eating Disorders, enamel erosion may appear as soon as six months after a person begins to purge. How severe the erosion of the teeth depends on how much and often a person vomits, the type of food they binge on and how long they battle bulimia.
Over time, enamel erosion can increase a person's risk for developing cavities. Erosion can also make the teeth more sensitive to heat and cold and to certain foods. A dentist can help a person who is experiencing oral side effects due to bulimia by giving in-office fluoride treatments or by providing the patient with fluoride treatments to use at home.
Other Oral Effects
It's not only purging by self-induced vomiting that can increase a person's risk for developing tooth decay and cavities. Foods very high in sugar and simple carbohydrates are most likely to contribute to tooth decay.
A person with bulimia might notice some other changes in the health of their teeth and gums. The stomach acid found in vomit can also irritate the gums, causing them to bleed and increasing the risk for gingivitis or periodontal disease. A person with bulimia might notice that their gums bleed very easily when brushing the teeth or that the gums are swollen and feel tender. It's also fairly common for people with bulimia to experience dry mouth, most likely due to changes in the flow of saliva due to regular vomiting.
Swollen Salivary Glands
Another side effect of bulimia doesn't directly affect the teeth and gums, but does occur in the oral cavity. Ten to 50 percent of patients with the eating disorder who self-induce vomiting can develop sialadenosis, or swelling/enlargement of the salivary glands, according to the Journal of Eating Disorders. It's not entirely clear why patients with bulimia develop swollen salivary glands, but the guess is that the swelling is connected to the presence of stomach acid, certain pancreatic proteolytic enzymes, or the high levels of carbohydrates found in the food a person binges on.
Bulimia nervosa is a multi-pronged disease that affects a person's physical, mental and oral health. Treating bulimia can involve therapy, support groups, nutritional therapy, medications and dental care. Along with seeing a dentist to help reduce or improve some of the oral side effects connected to the disease, following a good oral care routine at home, including brushing twice daily with a toothpaste that helps replenish natural calcium, like Colgate Enamel Health Sensitive Teeth toothpaste, may help reduce the risk for future cavities and strengthen the tooth's enamel.
You are likely very concerned about the health and overall well-being of your loved one. The good news is, as the Office on Women's Health notes, is that most people with eating disorders are able to get better and go on to develop healthy eating and exercise habits.