Bulimia is an eating disorder in which people binge-eat large amounts of food. Then they purge — throw up, fast, or engage in some other “purging” behavior such as using laxatives or exercising to excess — in an attempt to rid their bodies of all the extra calories.
Constant cycles of bingeing and purging are hard on the heart, kidneys, and other organs. But bulimia can be especially damaging to the teeth.
Repeated vomiting can cause serious damage to the teeth. Vomit is especially toxic because it contains stomach acids. These acids break down food in your stomach so your body can digest it.
But in the mouth, these acids are corrosive, enough to wear away at the enamel that covers and protects your teeth. Brushing your teeth too hard after you vomit can also contribute to tooth decay.
The acids from frequent vomiting can wear away so much tooth enamel that they leave a hole, or cavity. Bingeing on sugary foods and sodas can also contribute to tooth decay.
When you have dental decay, you may notice that your gums bleed when you brush them. If you don’t get a cavity filled, the hole will eventually become so big that you can lose the tooth.
Yellow, brittle teeth
As the erosion gets worse, you may also notice the color and texture of your teeth change. Your teeth may be weaker and more brittle than usual.
They can chip easily and may look ragged at the bottom. Sometimes they’ll turn a yellowish color or take on a glassy appearance. Bulimia can also change the shape and length of your teeth.
Swollen salivary glands
The acids in vomit can irritate the glands on the sides of each cheek. These glands produce saliva, the fluid that helps you swallow. It also protects your teeth against decay. You’ll notice a swelling around your jaw if your salivary glands are affected.
Although most changes in your teeth from bulimia aren’t reversible, salivary gland swelling should go down once you get treated and stop bingeing and purging.
Just as stomach acid wears away at the enamel on your teeth, it can also wear away at the skin on the roof and sides of your mouth. It can also damage your throat.
This can leave painful sores inside your mouth and throat. The sores can swell up and even become infected. Some people feel like they have a constant sore throat.
A lack of saliva can also lead to the constant feeling that your mouth is parched. Also known as dry mouth, this condition is more than just a minor annoyance. It can affect the way you eat by changing the flavor of food.
Dry mouth can also damage the teeth because saliva washes the away bacteria that cause tooth decay. Having dry mouth can make existing tooth decay from bulimia even worse.
As your tooth enamel wears away, it leaves the sensitive inner part of your teeth exposed. You may start to notice that your teeth hurt.
Some people have pain and sensitivity whenever they eat hot or cold food. They may feel discomfort when they bite into an ice cream cone or eat something hot such as soup.
Damage to your gums and soft palate can cause additional pain when chewing or swallowing.
The short-term solution to fixing dental problems caused by bulimia is to treat the dental conditions. A dentist can fill cavities, repair broken teeth, and help care for your gums.
However, the long-term solution to is to seek treatment for your bulimia. Dental repairs can only go so far if a person continues to purge.
Here are some resources for more information about seeking help for your bulimia:
- National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA)
- Eating Disorder Hope
- Walden Center for Education and Research
- Project Heal – Recovery is Possible
In addition to causing internal harm, bulimia can have damaging long-term, visible effects on the body. The teeth and mouth are at high risk for infection and decay, which can be painful and unsightly.
If you or someone you know suffers from bulimia, seeking help is the first step in preventing irreparable damage to your teeth and body.