Bulimia's Effects On Your Teeth: Understanding And Treating Dental Damage While Recovering From Your Eating Disorder

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Eating disorders are life-threatening conditions that deserve immediate treatment by a medical and psychological professional. Although surprising for many to learn, eating disorders, such as bulimia nervosa, can also  permanently alter a person's smile. If you are part of the 20 million women or 10 million men who suffer with an eating disorder in the United States, understanding how these conditions affect your oral health is smart. Using this guide, you will understand how binge eating harms your teeth and learn how to restore your smile while in recovery from your eating disorder.

Oral Health Effects

Characterized by binge eating foods and then purging through vomiting, bulimia nervosa not only decreases your body's intake of important vitamins and nutrients, but it also places a great deal of stress on your mouth, teeth, and gums.

Vomiting causes acids from the digestive system to linger inside your mouth, making contact with your teeth and gums. Over time, these acids will erode your tooth enamel. Without this protective layer of enamel, food and bacteria will build up on your teeth, leading to staining, infections, cavities, decay, and possible tooth loss.

Decreased tooth enamel can also cause your teeth to be overly sensitive. Eating or drinking hot, cold, sweet, or sour foods may become painful. Also, brushing your teeth may cause discomfort and light bleeding around the gum line.

Saliva rinses food and harmful bacteria out of your mouth, but the acids from vomiting will decrease saliva production. This warm, dry environment is appealing for bacteria growth, leading to infections and cavities. A dry mouth can also cause foul breath. 

Stomach acids from vomiting may also create sores in your mouth. These sores may develop on the tissue at the top of your mouth, on your lips, and on your gums. The sores are not only unappealing, but also painful. In many cases, the mouth sores may rupture and bleed, increasing your overall discomfort.

Lastly, many patients with eating disorders also suffer with anxiety and depression. Unfortunately, these emotional disorders may also cause you to clench your jaw and grind your teeth. Known as bruxism, this clenching and grinding wears down the teeth, increasing the risk of cavities, decay, tooth loss, and permanent damage to the jaw.

Smile Restoration Options

Repairing your smile back to an appealing state may be a priority, but you must visit your doctor to treat the actual eating disorder. Most medical professionals will suggest a full physical exam to determine if your bulimia has caused damage to your cardiovascular, digestive, or nervous systems.

Psychological evaluations are also necessary to determine the root cause of your eating disorder. Treating anxiety disorders or depression with inpatient or outpatient therapy will most likely be a priority. Also, your doctor may place you on medications to improve your emotional health.

Once you are in recovery for your bulimia, you can consult your dentist for options to restore your smile back to health.

Here are a few restoration options to consider:

  • Enamel Restoration – Dental erosion does not always require treatment. However, restoring the enamel will reduce your risk of further dental complications. Your dentist may suggest a fluoride application, which restores the protective layer of enamel while reducing the pain and sensitivity. If you have severe erosion, consider porcelain veneers. These thin porcelain pieces cover your teeth in a natural, durable manner.
  • Implant Dentistry – If you have lost one or more teeth due to decay or gum disease, ask your dentist about implants. Implants are surgically placed into the jaw before an artificial tooth is attached.

Porcelain veneers and dental implants are larger investments, so make sure you are in a later stage of your eating disorder recovery. Continue counseling after undergoing medical and dental treatment for your bulimia to ensure your success. With this guide and the help of your doctors, counselors, and dentists, you can fully recover from bulimia.  

For more information and options, talk with a cosmetic dentist, such as those at Dr. Jerry F. Maymi & Associates, directly.