What are bulimia teeth?

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What does bulimia do to your teeth? When someone purges, which happens frequently when someone has bulimia nervosa (BN), acids in their vomit damage the tooth enamel. Although tooth enamel is the hardest and most resilient tissue in the human body, it’s not impermeable to acids. When the acid comes in contact with the tooth enamel, it enters the tooth through small tubules and begins to destroy the tooth. This is called dental erosion, and can create “bulimia teeth”. (1)

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Bulimia teeth signs and symptoms

People who struggle with bulimia nervosa often do so in secret and do not realize they have a serious mental health condition that can cause equally serious physical complications. Health practitioners may not be looking for signs that someone may have bulimia. But often there are signs that, if detected, can gently prompt someone to get the help they need before the condition gets worse. (1) Dental erosion, sometimes called “bulimia teeth,” is one. 

Dental erosion, (or bulimia teeth) and damage to mouth tissue can be visible signs that something more serious is going on. (2)  They include: (1)

  • Worn down teeth
  • Chipped or broken teeth
  • Yellowed teeth 
  • Dull, not shiny, teeth
  • Tooth sensitivity to cold and heat
  • Predisposition to develop cavities
  • Mouth sores
  • Swelling of cheeks, mouth or jaw
  • Enlarged salivary glands

How can you prevent bulimia teeth? 

There are many ways to help prevent more damage to teeth and potentially restore the deterioration that has occurred already. Your dentist can recommend practices to help you repair and care for your teeth. 

This can include brushing and rinsing with water only after teeth are exposed to acids or sugar. Do not use toothpaste. Consider using  a water pick. Thorough brushing and rinsing with  water will dilute the acids on the surface of the teeth. 

Damaged surfaces can be repaired with porcelain-laminate veneers, dentin-bonded crowns with minimal tooth preparation, composites, and complete–coverage restorations. (2)

Working with a nutritionist can help prevent further damage and rebuild strong teeth. A nutritionist can provide education and develop a meal plan that includes a variety of foods that contain essential nutrients, including vitamin D, vitamin K, calcium, magnesium, boron, zinc, vitamin C, and phosphorus.

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Seek treatment for bulimia 

But eating enough food to ensure nutritional needs are met is not so simple for people who struggle with eating disorders. And repairing damaged teeth will only be a temporary fix if purging continues. Critical to any effort to repair the teeth and prevent future destruction is to stop the behavior that is causing the damage. Dental care and adequate nutrition are just two components of a comprehensive, multidisciplinary eating disorder treatment program that can address the underlying condition that is driving the behavior: bulimia nervosa (BN).

If you suspect you or someone you love may have bulimia, please seek help as soon as possible. Contact Within Health to learn more.

Disclaimer about "overeating": Within Health hesitatingly uses the word "overeating" because it is the term currently associated with this condition in society, however, we believe it inherently overlooks the various psychological aspects of this condition which are often interconnected with internalized diet culture, and a restrictive mindset about food. For the remainder of this piece, we will therefore be putting "overeating" in quotations to recognize that the diagnosis itself pathologizes behavior that is potentially hardwired and adaptive to a restrictive mindset.

Resources

  1. Bretz W. A. (2002). Oral profiles of bulimic women: Diagnosis and management. What is the evidence? The journal of evidence-based dental practice, 2(4), 267–272. https://doi.org/10.1016/s1532-3382(02)70078-x
  2. Uhlen, MM., Tveit, A.B., Refsholt Stenhagen, K. et al. Self-induced vomiting and dental erosion – a clinical study. BMC Oral Health, 14, 92 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1186/1472-6831-14-92

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