Dental Psychology: How Eating Disorders Can Eat Up Dental Health

Posted on: 11 December 2014


Good dental hygiene may not enough to protect the teeth of those who are struggling with eating disorders. Anorexia, bulimia, and binge eating can all have a negative and sometimes devastating effect on dental health. Dentists can often diagnose eating disorders by recognizing some of the signs of tooth decay and damage to the gums and soft tissues in the mouth.


Probably the most destructive eating disorder for dental health, bulimic behavior consists of compulsively following a binge-purge cycle. Most often, bulimics purge the body of of unwanted calories by forcing or training themselves to throw up after eating. During binges, bulimics tend to consume foods that are calorie dense, including sugary candy and soda pop. The increased sugar, combined with the acidic environment due to throwing up, leads to some serious dental health problems. The teeth suffer the following consequences:

  • over-exposure to acidic environments. Acidic foods are one of the main causes of dental decay, because acid wears down tooth enamel. However, the acidic contents of the stomach are much more damaging than a glass of lemonade. Dental decay rates will accelerate as the patient continues bulimic behavior. 
  • worn down enamel due to poor brushing habits. Often, in order to improve bad breath directly after purge and to hide the episodes, patients may brush the teeth right after vomiting. However, this causes even more damage to the teeth, because the enamel is already weakened with acid. It would be better to rinse the mouth with water in order to neutralize the environment. 
  • increased levels of bad breath. Purging can leave lingering bacteria and food particles in the mouth, increasing halitosis.
  • weakened bone density in the teeth. Over time, the interior structures of the teeth become weaker, especially as cavities form.
  • sensitive teeth. The worn down enamel means that bulimics will be more sensitive to hot and cold, as well as sweet and sour tastes. Chewing in general may become a painful activity as the disease becomes more advanced.


Instead of binging and purging, anorexics simply limit their food intake in order to continually lose weight. Generally, these calorie restrictions are severe and can lead to several problems throughout the body, even in the mouth. Common complications include:

  • excessive dryness due to lack of saliva. Those who struggle with anorexia may not only limit food, but also drink, even water. Dehydration is the natural side effect, which reduces saliva production. Saliva is essential to dental health because it prevents bacteria from settling on the teeth. Bacteria destroy enamel.
  • weak teeth. Severe calorie restriction prevents the body from making specific hormones. One of those hormones, called oestrogen, helps keep the bones strong, including the teeth and jaw. These will weaken as hormone levels deplete.
  • receding gums. Because anorexia can affect the heart and circulatory systems, gums and other extremities may not stay full, healthy and pink. Instead, they eventually will begin to recede. Severe anorexia can lead to the gums receding so far that the nerves of the teeth become exposed. 

Binge Eating

Those who struggle with binge eating do not follow the same cycle as purging or going without food, so they face other challenges, usually because of the types of foods consumed. Binge eaters usually do not feast on lean meats and vegetables. Usually, they will opt for comfort foods that are high in sugar, like desserts, or in things that have higher acidic content. This diet will lead to tooth decay because the bacteria in the mouth feed on sugars that are left behind. 

Proper oral hygiene and treatment at a place like Schererville Family Dentistry, PC can help alleviate some of the problems caused by eating disorders, but it's important to note that damage to teeth and gums cannot be reversed. Sometimes it can be fixed with fillings or root canals, but often, more intensive corrective work is needed.