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Bulimia Takes a Toll on Your Smile

Bulimia is an eating disorder in which a person eats large amounts of food in a short period of time, a process called bingeing. He or she then uses various methods to get rid of the food— a process called purging—to avoid gaining weight. After bingeing, bulimics might make themselves throw up, take laxatives, or exercise excessively.

In addition to causing serious health problems, bulimia can also take a major toll on your teeth. When you vomit, acids in the digestive system that break down food come up and dissolve tooth enamel. In fact, up to 89 percent of bulimics show signs of tooth erosion. The erosion can completely change how your teeth look, causing them to change in color, shape, and size. Frequent vomiting can also cause:

  • Brittle, translucent teeth

  • Teeth that are sensitive to hot and cold foods

  • Red, dry, cracked lips

  • Chronic dry mouth that can result in bad breath

Changes in your mouth can occur as early as six months from when bulimia starts.

It is highly important to seek help if you suffer from an eating disorder such as bulimia. Doctors, nutritionists, and therapists can help you learn to develop healthy eating habits, cope with your thoughts and feelings, and ultimately recover. What’s more, you can get your smile back! Although it may seem counterintuitive, one way to protect your teeth is to avoid brushing them right after vomiting. In this situation, brushing might actually worsen damage. Rinsing your mouth with a solution of baking soda in water can help to neutralize the remaining acid in your mouth.

Although you may feel embarrassed, be open and honest with your dentist about your problem. That way you can learn how to protect your smile while seeking treatment.

“Bad Breath.” Mouth Healthy, American Dental Association. http://www.mouthhealthy.org/en/az-topics/b/bad-breath. Accessed 2013.

"Bulimia Nervosa.” Womenshealth.gov, Office of Women’s Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. womenshealth.gov/faq/bulimia-nervosa.cfm Accessed 2013.

“Eating Concerns and Oral Health: Dental Complications of Eating Disorders.” National Eating Disorders Association. http://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/dental-complications-eating-disorders. Accessed 2013.

“Eating Disorders.” Mouth Healthy, American Dental Association. http://www.mouthhealthy.org/en/az-topics/e/eating-disorders. Accessed 2013.

“Eating Disorders.” National Institute of Mental Health. www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/eating-disorders/complete-index.shtml#pub4. Accessed 2013.

“Preventing Teeth Damage.” Bulimia Help.” http://www.bulimiahelp.org/articles/preventing-teeth-damage Accessed 2013.

Author: Greenfield, Paige