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Bulimia and Teeth: Side Effects, Considerations and Treatments

Woman rinsing her mouth with mouthwash

Bulimia nervosa is an eating disorder that involves a cycle of binging and purging, which refers to binge eating followed by using compensatory behavior, such as self-induced vomiting, laxative use, excessive exercise, fasting or using diet pills or diuretics to rid the body of calories. It’s a serious, potentially life-threatening condition that can affect all aspects of your health, including your oral health, particularly if you practice self-induced vomiting. While the effects of bulimia on the teeth can be significant, that doesn’t mean there’s nothing you can do about it. Today we’ll be covering everything you need to know about bulimia and teeth from the oral health side effects of the disorder to the treatment options available to restore your smile.

Effects of Bulimia on Teeth

The gastric acid in your stomach breaks down the food you eat. When you vomit, these acids come up. Because of the frequency of vomiting with bulimia, the teeth are constantly bathed in gastric acid, which erodes the enamel. One of the first things you may notice is that your teeth get more sensitive to hot and cold since the nerves are closer to the surface and, sometimes, can even become damaged. Bulimia and tooth decay often go hand in hand too as the weakened, eroded enamel allows the plaque acids to further eat away at the teeth and cause cavities. As the disorder goes on, teeth become thin and discolored. Eventually, they can crack, chip and even crumble exposing the pulp inside of the teeth. They often wear down and get shorter or change shape, which, in turn, can lead to changes in your bite, or the way the upper and lower teeth come together. In severe cases, bulimia can result in tooth loss.

It’s not just the stomach acids in vomit that cause oral health issues either. Bulimia can cause the salivary glands to swell and the inside of the mouth can get irritated, sore and dry. Saliva is important because it helps wash away food debris and plaque and the minerals found it in replace the minerals lost from the plaque acids. This helps fight cavities. When the mouth is dry and there isn’t an adequate flow of saliva, it increases your risk of decay. Another reason bulimia and tooth decay are tied together is because it’s not uncommon for a person suffering from bulimia to binge on sugary foods and drinks. Under the best circumstances, excessive sugar consumption can cause cavities but with bulimia, the teeth are already in a weakened state.

Additionally, if you’re not getting all of the vitamins and nutrients you need in your diet and become malnourished, your body can’t heal itself as efficiently. This can lead to gum disease. In its most advanced stage, known as periodontitis, the bone and tissue that support the teeth are compromised and teeth can become loose or fall out completely.

Protecting Your Teeth From Bulimia

There’s a lot of misinformation floating around about how to save your teeth from bulimia, including using Vaseline on your teeth when vomiting, which isn’t effective. While there’s no foolproof way to save your teeth from bulimia while you’re still actively purging, there are things you can do to minimize the damage to the enamel.

  • After you vomit, the enamel is softened from the stomach acids. So, brushing right away can cause more damage to the teeth. It can be tough but try to wait at least an hour to brush your teeth. Instead, after vomiting, rinse your mouth out with a fluoride rinse. Or, mix a tablespoon of baking soda in eight ounces of water and rinse with that. It will help neutralize the acids and wash away any debris or bad taste you may have in your mouth. If you don’t have mouthwash or baking soda on hand, plain water works too.
  • When you do brush your teeth, use a soft-bristled toothbrush and fluoride toothpaste. Brush your tongue as well since it can trap acids. The fluoride will help strengthen your teeth. Our Naperville dentists will sometimes even prescribe a fluoride treatment to patients who have bulimia. These are stronger than what you can get over the counter, so be sure to ask when you come in for an appointment.
  • Avoid acidic foods and drinks like citrus fruits and carbonated beverages as much as possible. These will compound the weakening of the enamel.
  • Drink water throughout the day. This will prevent dry mouth, flush away debris and get rid of acid residue that’s clinging to the soft tissues of the mouth. Chewing sugarless gum is also great for stimulating saliva production and helping to remove acid residue.
  • Keep up with regular dental visits. As dentists, we’re extremely knowledgeable about bulimia and teeth and we can take action to prevent further damage and contain the negative effects of the stomach acids. We can also help you develop an excellent home care routine.

Dental Treatments for Bulimia

We encourage you to let us know if you are bulimic or recovering from bulimia. At Naperville Dental Specialists, we take a compassionate, discreet, non-judgmental approach. We won’t lecture you or make you feel ashamed or embarrassed. We’ll simply talk with you about your health history, examine your mouth, explain our findings and help you minimize damage to the teeth. If you’re still purging, we will often use temporary measures and we’ll treat issues like tooth decay and gum disease right away so they don’t progress.

Once you’re on the road to recovery, we offer cosmetic and implant dentistry at our practice. Veneers and crowns can be amazing ways to restore the appearance of worn, chipped or discolored teeth. For missing teeth, dental implants are the best option to permanently replace them. They look and function just like your natural teeth. We’ll sit down with you and create a customized treatment plan that will restore your smile and your confidence.

To learn more about your options for dental care for bulimia in Naperville, book a complimentary consultation at Naperville Dental Specialists today!

Dr. Anthony LaVacca

Author Dr. Anthony LaVacca

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