How Eating Disorders are Damaging to Teeth

Woman Contemplating Her Struggling With Anorexia

Eating disorders can be harmful to your mind and body in ways that you might not even consider. For example, eating disorders can severely damage your teeth and overall oral health.

Most disordered food behaviors have varying effects on your oral health and can result in tooth decay, dry mouth, soft palate damage, and much more.

Effects of Purging on Your Teeth

Purging can take many forms, but for now we will be referring to self-induced vomiting. This can lead to enamel loss, tooth erosion, discoloration, and weakening of the teeth, among other damage.

Why does purging wreak such havoc on your teeth? Primarily because purging means that stomach acid is regularly making direct contact with your teeth. This can weaken your teeth, making them brittle and discolored.

Individuals who purge are also at high risk for soft palate or soft tissue damage, meaning that their gums, sides of the mouth, or back of the throat show visible damage from self-induced vomiting. This is often a red flag for dentists who might already suspect that their patient is struggling with an eating disorder.

Purging also leads to dehydration, which can cause dry mouth and similarly dry, cracked lips and gums.

Restriction and Your Oral Health

Woman smiling in the sunshineWith restriction, a behavior associated with many eating disorders but especially associated with anorexia nervosa, individuals often face extreme nutritional deficiency. This leads to a variety of oral health concerns.

Malnutrition can result in tooth decay and gum disease. Iron deficiency often leads to open sores in the mouth, and a lack of vitamin B3 can cause bad breath and the development of painful canker sores.

The extent of the effects of restriction on the teeth and gums has not been thoroughly researched, so there remains a need for further studies relating to anorexia nervosa and oral health.

Dangers of Chewing and Spitting

Chewing and spitting disorder (CHSP) is a lesser known eating disorder characterized by chewing and spitting food in a compulsive pattern, as opposed to swallowing and digesting it.

Tooth decay, swollen glands, and cavities are common among those who struggle with chewing and spitting. Many people chew and spit high quantities of “fear foods” per episode, often chewing foods that are high in sugar. This leads to tooth rot and these other painful, sometimes irreversible side effects.

Chewing and spitting tricks the body into thinking it is eating, but then only a small amount of food (if any) is actually ingested. Acid produced in the body in anticipation of digestion can lead to stomach and mouth ulcers, which can be both painful and harmful to your oral health.

Speaking with Your Dentist

As stated in a 2005 meta-analysis [1], “Dentists are recognized as being some of the first health care professionals to whom a previously undiagnosed eating disorder patient (EDP) may present.” Essentially, dentists can see unique red flags in the teeth and soft palate that many other health professionals might miss.

If your dentist approaches you about these oral health problems and addresses the possibility of disordered eating, consider being honest and seeking support from your dental professional. This might be the intervention you need to take that first step toward recovery.

Dental professionals are encouraged to approach any conversation about disordered eating very sensitively. Eating disorders are often shrouded in shame, meaning that the individual might not be ready to admit to their disordered behaviors or seek professional help.

Make sure that your office is a safe space for your client and that there is an understanding that any discussions you might have in this regard will remain confidential.

Learn How to Protect Your Teeth

Woman showing teethClearly, stopping disordered food behaviors is the most immediate way to reduce damage to your teeth and gums.

However, this is not always possible on a short-term basis, so learn ways to mitigate harm to your teeth while you work toward recovery. For example, rinsing your mouth with water after purging can wash away some of the acidity to prevent further damage to your oral health.

Some of the potential side effects of disordered eating on your teeth and mouth are irreversible, so consider your dentist an ally in your journey toward recovery and reach out for help today.

Community Discussion – Share your thoughts here!

What resources were helpful to you when restoring your oral health in recovery?

Courtney Howard Image - 2-17-16About the Author: Courtney Howard is the Director of Operations & Business Development at Eating Disorder Hope. She graduated summa cum laude with a B.A. from San Diego State University, holds a paralegal certificate in Family Law, and is a Certified Domestic Violence Advocate. After obtaining her certification as a life coach, Courtney launched Lionheart Eating Disorder Recovery Coaching in 2015 and continues to be a passionate advocate for awareness and recovery.


[1]:  Frydrych, A., Davies, G. and McDermott, B. (2005), Eating disorders and oral health: A review of the literature. Australian Dental Journal, 50: 6–15. doi:10.1111/j.1834-7819.2005.tb00079.x

The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective of eating disorders. These are not necessarily the views of Eating Disorder Hope, but an effort to offer discussion of various issues by different concerned individuals.

We at Eating Disorder Hope understand that eating disorders result from a combination of environmental and genetic factors. If you or a loved one are suffering from an eating disorder, please know that there is hope for you, and seek immediate professional help.

Last Updated & Reviewed By: Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on December 29, 2016
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