Bulimia nervosa is an eating disorder that may involve vomiting. Frequent vomiting can damage oral health over time. Proper oral care can help manage these effects and promote tooth health alongside eating disorder treatment.

Bulimia involves cycles of eating and purging. People with this condition may eat large portions of food in a short period, called binge eating, and then purge. Purging can involve vomiting, using diuretics and laxatives, or excessive exercise.

Regular vomiting can lead to tooth decay, cavities, and pain. Without proper care, people with bulimia may experience poor oral health.

This article examines the relationship between bulimia and teeth. It also discusses how to protect teeth from damage.

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During vomiting, the stomach acid contained in vomit comes into contact with the teeth. This acid can erode the protective layer of enamel around the teeth. Over time, regular vomiting may continue to worsen tooth erosion.

Research suggests people with bulimia are more likely to drink carbonated and soft drinks. They also tend to drink acidic sports drinks while they exercise. These drinks can also increase the risk of tooth erosion.

Finally, many people with bulimia brush their teeth right after vomiting. Brushing immediately after vomiting can speed up tooth erosion.

Learn more about dental problems.

Bulimia may also cause cavities, or small holes in the teeth. This is generally due to tooth enamel erosion from frequent contact with stomach acid during vomiting. These acids wear down the enamel, making teeth more susceptible to decay.

Cavities appear when a tooth begins to decay from acid, causing the enamel to lose important minerals. When the enamel wears down enough to become destroyed, a cavity forms in the tooth. A cavity is a permanent damage to the tooth. Only a dentist can repair it with a filling.

People with bulimia also tend to drink acidic sports drinks during exercise. Episodes of binge eating may involve large amounts of sugary foods. Acidic drinks and sugary foods both increase the risk of cavities.

People with bulimia may take laxatives or diuretics as part of purging behavior. These medications can increase dehydration. Dehydration can reduce the amount of saliva the mouth produces. This may increase acidity within the mouth and contribute to cavities.

Learn more about cavities.

Tooth enamel helps protect teeth from decay. People with weak enamel tend to experience tooth pain and sensitivity. This may be particularly common among people with bulimia.

Tooth pain and sensitivity can also influence what foods a person eats. Restricting food intake to certain types of food can impair nutrition. For people with bulimia, this may lead to further tooth damage and increased pain.

Read more about bulimia.

People with bulimia may experience dental decay, cavities, and tooth pain or sensitivity. However, bulimia can also cause other issues within the mouth.

Mouth sores

Bulimia can lead to mouth sores in certain cases. These oral lesions may occur on the insides of the cheeks, the palate, or the lips.

Mouth sores may occur from deficiencies in nutrients, such as iron or vitamin B12. They may also occur as a result of self-induced vomiting.

People with bulimia may use pens, combs, or fingers to induce vomiting. This can cause injuries to the soft palate. These injuries may appear as mouth sores or lesions.

Salivary glands

Research has found that bulimia can affect the size of the salivary glands. Some people may have enlarged salivary glands after vomiting.

In certain cases, this can also lead to swelling of the cheeks.

Dry mouth

Eating disorders such as bulimia can cause dry mouth.

Scientists have found that bulimia can decrease the amount of saliva in the mouth. Reduced saliva levels may cause the sensation of dry mouth.

People with bulimia may also experience severe dehydration. This may occur after vomiting, using diuretics or laxatives, or excessive exercise. Dehydration may lead to dry mouth in some cases.

Help is available

Eating disorders can severely affect the quality of life of people living with these conditions and those close to them. Early intervention and treatment greatly improve the likelihood of recovery.

Anyone who suspects they or a loved one may have an eating disorder can contact the National Alliance for Eating Disorders, which offers a daytime helpline staffed by licensed therapists and an online search tool for treatment options.

For general mental health support at any time, people can call the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration 24 hours a day at 1-800-662-4357 (or 1-800-487-4889 for TTY).

Many other resources are also available, including:

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Frequent vomiting can erode dental enamel and promote tooth decay. Affected teeth may need dental restorations. Veneers, crowns, or overlays may all help restore damaged teeth. Some people may also require periodontal plastic surgery.

Each individual has a unique experience of bulimia. No dental care plan is right for everyone with this eating disorder.

The timing of dental care is another factor that can vary between people. A dentist may delay certain interventions until a person is receiving treatment for bulimia.

To learn more about treating the effects of bulimia on teeth and oral health, speak with a healthcare or dental professional.

Certain dietary and lifestyle strategies can help protect the teeth from further damage. For example, carbonated and acidic drinks can increase the risk of tooth decay. To reduce this risk:

  • choose milk or water over other beverages
  • rinse the mouth after drinking carbonated or acidic drinks
  • avoid using a straw to consume these beverages

Excessive brushing can also weaken tooth enamel. Consider a toothbrush with soft bristles for daily brushing.

After vomiting, avoid brushing the teeth for at least 1 hour. Doing so can help avoid brushing acid from vomit onto the surface of the teeth. Instead, rinse the mouth with water or a mouthwash containing fluoride.

Visit a dentist to learn more about protecting the teeth from damage. They can provide individualized advice on what steps to take to promote dental health.

Learn more about healthy teeth and gums.

The following are some questions people frequently ask about the effects bulimia has on teeth.

Should you brush your teeth after purging?

It is best to avoid brushing the teeth after purging. Brushing the teeth right after vomiting can spread stomach acid onto the surface of the teeth. This can further damage tooth enamel and promote decay.

Instead of brushing, a person can rinse the mouth with fluoride mouthwash or water.

Does vomiting cause gum recession?

Vomiting can cause gum recession in some cases. It may occur due to the stomach acid in vomit.

When stomach acid washes over the teeth, it can cause or worsen tooth erosion. This acid can also affect the gums and may cause them to recede.

Bulimia is an eating disorder that involves purging after eating. Vomiting is a common form of purging that can damage oral health.

The stomach acid contained in vomit can erode tooth enamel. This may lead to tooth decay, cavities, and tooth pain or sensitivity. Some dietary choices common in bulimia can also worsen oral health.

Taking proactive steps to protect teeth can help decrease bulimia’s effects on oral health. Rinsing teeth after vomiting, avoiding carbonated or acidic drinks, and using a toothbrush with soft bristles can all help alongside treatment for the eating disorder.

People with bulimia are not alone, and support is available. They can contact a healthcare or mental health professional to learn treatment options for their eating disorder. Speaking with a dentist can also help a person learn how to protect their teeth from further damage.