How Dentists Can Save Teens From Eating Disorders

By John Lavitt 04/30/14

Your family dentist can check for tooth enamel, gingival bleeding, and gum inflammation, all of which can be early signs of an eating disorder.

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Too many young girls and boys in the United States are suffering from eating disorders. The emotional toll taken on families is nothing less than devastating. Parents need to know that help can be accessed in unexpected places. For example, eating disorders such as bulimia damage teeth, changing their appearance and health. As a result, your dentist can help diagnose an eating disorder in a child in denial, providing the evidence needed to take appropriate action.

The average onset age of an eating disorder is 16 years old. The majority of cases are not perpetual and a person typically experiences an eating disorder for three to four years. Although mostly predominant among young women - nearly 10 million women in the United States are affected - men also suffer as well. Many parents are shocked to learn that one million young men annually, according to the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA), suffer from the physical and psychological horror of eating disorders.

Luckily, dental exams can play a key role in catching an eating disorder before it progresses too far. Even in the early stages, the side effects of bulimia include distinct signs of dental decay. Such signs are like a flashing warning light to a dentist, particularly if they have been alerted to the potential problem by the parents.

In eating disorders such as bulimia or binging and purging, when the young person forces themselves to throw up, the mouth is subjected to the stomach’s erosive fluids. This exposure to stomach acids corrodes tooth enamel, resulting in damage alongside the back side of the upper front teeth. Patients with eating disorders also may suffer from gingival bleeding and gum inflammation.

If parents are concerned about whether their child has an eating disorder, they can ask their dentist for help during a checkup.

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Growing up in Manhattan as a stutterer, John Lavitt discovered that writing was the best way to express himself when the words would not come. After graduating with honors from Brown University, he lived on the Greek island of Patmos, studying with his mentor, the late American poet Robert Lax. As a writer, John’s published work includes three articles in Chicken Soup For The Soul volumes and poems in multiple poetry journals and compilations. Active in recovery, John has been the Treatment Professional News Editor for The Fix. Since 2015, he has published over 500 articles on the addiction and recovery news website. Today, he lives in Los Angeles, trying his best to be happy and creative. Find John on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.