Eating Disorders And Oral Health

Eating disorders can negatively impact oral health in some ways. Two eating disorders discussed here, anorexia and bulimia, may have overlapping negative impacts such as malnutrition. Other impacts are specific to each type of eating disorder.

Anorexia Nervosa

A type of eating disorder that is characterized by very low body weight, severe food restriction and distorted body image (believes they are overweight even if severely underweight). Individuals may obsessively exercise and count calories. They may also abuse medications such as laxatives or diuretics to aid in weight loss.


Due to such a limited diet, those suffering from anorexia are malnourished and deficient in the vitamins and minerals needed to maintain overall health and oral health. If lacking vitamin C, the individual may experience an increase in bleeding of their gums and delayed healing of any oral lesions. Vitamin B and iron deficiency can lead to a burning sensation of the mouth, especially the tongue.
A combination of lack of nutrients and potential medication use can lead to xerostomia (dry mouth). This puts those with anorexia at a higher risk of developing cavities.

Bulimia Nervosa

This type of eating disorder is characterized by episodes of binge eating abnormal amounts of food in a two-hour period and feeling a lack of control while doing so.
There are two types; purging and non-purging. Those who purge use self-induced vomiting and medications like laxatives and diuretics to prevent weight gain. The non-purging type may fast or excessively exercise after binge eating.

Individuals with bulimia may not be underweight like those who suffer from anorexia. With the purging type of bulimia, frequent vomiting can cause erosion of enamel to occur. This can lead to teeth that break or chip more easily, appear darker in color and may be more sensitive to hot and cold foods and drinks. Self-induced vomiting can result in trauma to the roof of the mouth.


After a binge-eating episode, the parotid glands (the saliva glands located in the cheek in front of the ear) may feel enlarged for 2-6 days but will not be painful to touch. Malnutrition is also a risk with bulimia since food may not be in the digestive system long enough for nutrients to be absorbed.

Individuals could have complex eating disorders which combine characteristics from both anorexia and bulimia. Others may struggle with binge eating and with no purging or compensatory behaviors like exercise and are often overweight or obese.

Eating disorders negatively affect the mind and body and can have detrimental effects on the mouth. Regular dental care and following the suggestions below can help limit the damage that may occur.

Oral Hygiene Considerations With Eating Disorders:

For dry mouth, products that stimulate saliva production such as xylitol gum or mints are available. Always make sure these products are sugar-free. There are also saliva substitute products that help moisturize oral tissues. These products will help minimize the discomfort of having a dry mouth and contribute to reducing cavity risk.

Daily, thorough brushing and flossing are very important. Using a fluoridated mouth rinse daily will also help remineralize weakened teeth. Try to reduce sugary and acidic foods and drinks and limit frequency of snacking. Do not brush directly after vomiting or consuming acidic foods and drinks. Rinse thoroughly with water or a solution of water and baking soda and wait 30 minutes to brush. A higher concentration fluoridated toothpaste may be recommended. Regular professional dental care is important to prevent major dental issues.

If you are suffering from an eating disorder and need help, contact us for helpful resources.

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