Side Effects of Bulimia Nervosa - Your Teeth and Gums

The effects of bulimia on your teeth may not be immediately evident.
The effects of bulimia on your teeth may not be immediately evident.

For so many reasons eating disorders can be bad for your teeth, gums and overall oral health. In some cases the effects of bulimia can have fatal consequences, but most frequently it’s the impact the stomach acids have on oral health that bulimics fear. As a bulimic for 20 years I can attest that the chronic binging and purging can have serious consequences on not just your teeth and gums but your throat, as well.

The effects of bulimia on your teeth may not be immediately evident and bulimics with really good genes, superior dental hygiene and proper maintenance don’t suffer the consequences as severely as others.  However, the deterioration of dental health can be quite evident after just a couple of years and the dentist is often the first to recognize the signs of bulimia. Here is what I’ve learned about the way that bulimia can affect our teeth:

Erosion of Tooth Enamel

Frequent vomiting means that stomach acids come into contact with the teeth and cause erosion of tooth enamel and damage to the teeth. Your teeth may then become more sensitive to hot and cold sensations.  For me, after I became bulimic I could never brush my teeth with cold water again.  Even though I stopped purging 6 years ago, my teeth are still very sensitive to cold liquids.

I don’t think I experienced this, but I’ve read about people who have seen their teeth get smaller and the alignment changes.  Some bulimics even start to bite or chew differently. In extreme cases of erosion, teeth have to even be extracted.

Bulimics often binge on unhealthy foods high in sugar, salt and fat.  These foods are exactly what your dentist warns you about at every visit.  When you have bulimia, you are unnaturally attracted to salty or sugary foods and it’s these foods that can cause a lot of harm to your teeth, not to mention a lot of other areas of your body due to the poor nutritional value of what you’re eating.

Malnourishment and Your Teeth

One of the common effects of bulimia is malnourishment.  You would be right to think bulimics are people who eat massive amounts of food.  However, because of the amount of purging they put their body through, bulimics can actually become malnourished.   Malnourishment is often associated with the eating disorder anorexia, but bulimics, too, can suffer from malnourishment if they aren’t careful.

Malnourishment can cause anemia, and this in turn could cause lowered immunity and slower healing processes. Both of these factors increase the risk of gum disease.

Effects of Bulimia Beyond the Teeth

Very often bulimics cause trauma to their throat and food pipe when they induce vomiting. The salivary glands and the thyroid glands tend to swell.  If you’ve ever been sick and vomited, you will remember how red your face becomes, how swollen your whole head and neck feels.  If you’re not used to vomiting, your throat probably became dry and sore.  Now imagine vomiting up to 10 times a day and what that would do to your throat and glands.

About 10 years into bulimia I was diagnosed with an ulcer from all of the acids from my stomach wearing out the lining of my throat.  I was lucky.  I was put on a liquid diet for about a week and received medications for the ulcer, but my body healed and the ulcer never returned.  I’ve read stories of much worse outcomes including a woman having her entire large intestine removed and other unbelievable consequences.

What you can do to minimize damage to your teeth and gums while you get help for your bulimia

  • Get regular dental checkups and cleanings so that any damage can be identified and minimized before it gets worse
  • After vomiting, rinse your mouth out with baking soda and water to minimize the damage to your teeth and gums from the stomach acids
  • Avoid toothpastes with whiteners, but instead use ones with fluoride to strengthen the teeth
  • Be cautious about brushing immediately after an episode because stomach acids weaken tooth enamel and brushing may make things worse – ask your dentist
  • If your dentist notices the effects of bulimia on your teeth and gums they may prescribe certain rinses or gels to give your teeth the nutrients and vitamins the vomiting is taking away
  • Your dentist may recommend saliva replacements if the salivary glands are impacted
  • Floss your teeth at least once a day to help maintain good gum health and avoid plaque build up

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