Bulimia nervosa (often called just bulimia) is a serious eating disorder that affects your general health, but also your oral health. Often, it causes irreversible teeth damage. Understanding the condition and its effects on your oral health can be an important stage in recovery.

If you have or suspect that you have bulimia, it’s important to talk to a doctor, counselor, or mental health professional. Damage to your teeth will persist as long as you have bulimia.

If you are resolved to recovery and are looking for a dental partner who can help restore damage to your teeth, we are committed to compassionate and confidential care. Please call (949) 551-5902 or email Rice Dentistry in Irvine today.

What Is Bulimia?

Drs. Rice's office, Bulimia teeth damage

Bulimia is an eating disorder in which a person engages in food binges, then tries to eliminate the calories consumed through a variety of unhealthy means. People with bulimia often also have anorexia, in which a person has an unhealthy fear of weight gain and strives to maintain an unhealthy low body weight. Other times, though, people with bulimia may maintain a normal weight.

There are generally two types of bulimia: purging and nonpurging. In purging bulimia, people strive to eliminate calories by vomiting or the abuse of laxatives. In nonpurging bulimia, people attempt to eliminate calories by fasting, strict dieting, or excessive exercise.

Purging Bulimia and Teeth Damage

Purging bulimia is by far the most damaging to teeth. Among the many effects of purging bulimia on the teeth are:

  • Erosion of tooth enamel
  • Cavities
  • Cracked or broken teeth
  • Tooth sensitivity
  • Inflammation, bleeding, and pain in the gums
  • Dry mouth
  • Pain and swelling in the throat

Repeated vomiting erodes tooth enamel, the attractive and protective outer layer of the teeth. The exposed dentin underneath is less attractive and is softer, and can often cause tooth sensitivity. The erosion also exposes teeth to further damage, such as decay caused by bacteria, and chipping or cracking caused by biting or chewing. Damage to the enamel can be worsened if a bulimic tries to control bad breath from purging by brushing teeth. After vomiting, tooth enamel is softened and vulnerable to wear by a tooth brush.

Vomiting also affects the soft tissue in the mouth. Salivary glands are damaged, and, with dehydration, this leads to dry mouth. The gums may be sore, and may bleed. Bleeding may occur from other surfaces in the mouth, such as the palate, the top or bottom of the mouth. The throat may also be chronically sore, and swallowing problems are common.

Nonpurging Bulimia and Teeth Damage

Vomiting is not the only aspect of bulimia that can lead to teeth damage. Bulimics often engage in a number of unhealthy habits that can damage teeth.

One common habit is the use of a lemonade cleanse or high-citrus diet to attempt to control calories. Citric acid can be as bad for teeth as stomach acid, and people who go through weeks of consuming nothing but lemonade can suffer very serious erosion.

Excessive levels of exercise can also be damaging to teeth. With high levels of exercise, pH levels of saliva may drop, which means saliva itself can erode teeth.

Dehydration associated with bulimia can reduce saliva production. With decreased saliva, bacteria will thrive in the mouth, causing more cavities and gum disease.

Binging and Teeth Damage

Binging behavior can also lead to damage to your teeth. Binging often focuses on high-sugar guilt foods, which can feed bacteria, resulting in an increased risk of cavities. Because of the often secretive nature of binges, oral care is neglected, which can lead to increased damage.

Preventing and Repairing Teeth Damage

The first step in controlling teeth damage from bulimia is to start getting treatment. Until your bulimia is under control, only provisional dental care may be undertaken. This can slow damage to your teeth, but cannot stop it. Read more about preventing bulimia teeth problems for information about how you can work together with a dentist during bulimia treatment to slow damage.

Once your bulimia is under control, we can begin bulimia teeth repair. With advanced cosmetic dentistry procedures, we can often give you an attractive smile that shows no evidence of your former condition.

Want to talk to an Orange County cosmetic dentist about bulimia tooth damage? Please call (949) 551-5902 or email us in Irvine today for an appointment.