Bulimia & the Teeth: Effects & Signs of Damage

Bulimia doesn’t technically harm your teeth. But one habit common in people with bulimia can cause extensive dental damage you’ll need a professional to address

woman at dentist

Bulimia doesn’t technically harm your teeth. But one habit common in people with bulimia can cause extensive dental damage you’ll need a professional to address

The habit: vomiting. Stomach acids erode tooth enamel, and once it’s gone, it doesn’t come back. 

A dentist could be an important ally in bulimia recovery. Almost 30% of people with bulimia were first diagnosed in dental appointments. [1] The conversation you have there could help you to change your life for the better. 

Known Bulimia Teeth Signs 

People who purge by vomiting often have tell-tale dental symptoms. They fall into two general camps. 

Teeth

A healthy mouth is filled with strong, shapely teeth free of decay and disease. If you purge via vomiting with bulimia, your teeth may look like this: [2]

  • Rounded: Sharp, defining edges disappear, leaving each tooth smooth around the edge. 
  • Shiny: Healthy teeth have a slight shine to them. Bulimia teeth are extremely shiny, as though they’ve been varnished. 
  • Chipped: Tiny pockmarks or “cups” appear on the chewing surfaces of your teeth. 
  • Less healthy than fillings: Your teeth seem to shrink back from any restoration work. 

Mouth

Your teeth need a healthy environment, and bulimia-prompted vomiting can cause significant changes that hurt your oral health. 

Your mouth may feel like this: [3]

  • Dry: You produce (or retain) little saliva, and you may always seem like your tongue sticks to the roof of your mouth. 
  • Sore: Tiny cracks, chips, and tears are painful. 
  • Nonfunctional: Chewing may be difficult, and since your mouth is dry, it’s hard to swallow.

Without enough saliva, bacterial colonies spread throughout your mouth and deep into your teeth. Discomfort could keep you from eating too. If you’re underweight due to bulimia, your oral health could make things worse. 

Brushing Causes More Damage

Experts say that people who vomit five or more times per day have the worst cases of bulimia teeth. [4] But how you handle a purge aftermath could help (or harm) your mouth. 

People with severe dental problems due to bulimia brush their teeth right after vomiting. [5] Those who rinse or do nothing at all have less significant issues. 

Brushing works in tandem with stomach acids to remove tooth enamel. Your teeth are softened each time you vomit, and brushing means scraping that damaged tissue away. 

Dentists suggest rinsing with water to keep teeth healthy. [5] But the best way to ensure that vomiting doesn’t harm your teeth is to get help for your bulimia. Treatment programs can help you resist the urge to binge and purge. 

Can You Reverse Bulimia Teeth?

Your enamel takes a beating during bulimic purging episodes. The thinning, chipping, pitting, and pain are all caused by losing enamel. Unfortunately, what you lose can’t regrow. 

Cells that create enamel die when teeth emerge from the gums. [6] Your enamel should stay with you for the rest of your life. But you’ll need a dentist’s help if you harm or lose it.

Dental professionals have plenty of tools to help people with sore, weakened teeth. For example, your team could use fillings, implants, veneers, and more to help your teeth look and feel better. 

But know that your teeth will not magically heal, even when you stop vomiting. You must work with a professional. 

Is It Time to Get Help?

Whether your teeth hurt or not, whether you are missing teeth or not, if you have bulimia, you need help. Talk with a doctor, dentist, or friend you trust. Explain how you feel and what you’d like for your future. You’re worth it. 

Resources


  1. Rai R, Anand V, Prakash C, Sandhya V, Selvarathi K. (2020). Eating Disorders and Its Dental Impact. International Journal of Innovative Science and Research Technology; 5(10):1070-173.
  2. The Effect of Bulimia on the Dentition. (2017). British Dental Association. 
  3. Bretz WA. (2002). Oral profiles of bulimic women: Diagnosis and management. What is the evidence?  Journal of Evidence-Based Dental Practice; 2(4):267-272. 
  4. Rosten, A., Newton, T. (2017). The impact of bulimia nervosa on oral health: A review of the literature. British Dental Journal; 223:533–539.
  5. Otsu, M., Hamura, A., Ishikawa, Y. et al. (2015). Factors affecting the dental erosion severity of patients with eating disorders. BioPsychoSocial Medicine; 8(25). 
  6. Wheeler G. (2022). New Artificial Enamel is Harder and More Durable Than the Real Thing. Science. Retrieved August 12, 2022.

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