Wellness + Nutrition

Eating disorders cause oral health problems, too

More than 10 million Americans have eating disorders,1 a condition that creates an unhealthy relationship with food. If you or a loved one suffer from an eating disorder, it’s vital to seek treatment as soon as possible, due to potential health concerns. Eating disorders can also play a role in oral health. Here’s how. 

Types of eating disorders

There are a variety of eating disorders, but these are the three most common: 

Anorexia nervosa (anorexia): severely limiting calories, resulting in extreme weight loss

Bulimia nervosa (bulimia): bingeing on food and then intentionally purging              

Binge-eating: excessive eating without purging                                                                                         



Oral health complications

In addition to serious — even life-threatening — overall health problems, eating disorders can cause a host of oral health issues. A lack of nutrients, especially calcium and vitamin D, along with the highly acidic nature of vomit, can result in:

• Eroded enamel

• Brittle, translucent teeth

• Cavities

• Bleeding gums  

• Bad breath

• Discolored teeth

• Dry mouth

• Tooth sensitivity

• Tooth loss



Risk factors

Eating disorders are more common in teenage and young adult women. However, they also occur in boys, men and older women. It’s important to know the risk factors and warning signs.


While the exact cause of eating disorders is unknown, these factors may increase risk:

• Genetics and a family history of eating disorders

• Mental health disorders, including anxiety, depression and obsessive-compulsive disorder

• Frequent dieting, especially at a young age

• Being teased and bullied about weight

• Poor body image (excessive worry about how you look)

• Participating in sports that focus on weight, such as gymnastics or wrestling

• Stress

• Isolation

For many people, increased stress, anxiety and isolation from stay-at-home orders during the COVID-19 pandemic worsened symptoms associated with eating disorders. Nearly half (45%) of people surveyed who have an eating disorder were not receiving any treatment,2 while calls to the National Eating Disorders Association Hotline were up more than 70%.3



Watch for these warning signs

Symptoms vary depending on the type of eating disorder. In addition to oral health complications, these are indicators of a possible issue:

• Changing eating habits (cutting out food groups, fad diets)

• Eating in secret or wanting to eat alone

• Undergoing significant weight loss, weight gain or fluctuations

• Exhibiting obsessive thoughts about food, weight, body size or body shape

• Exercising excessively

• Withdrawing from usual friends and activities

• Suffering extreme mood swings

• Dressing differently to hide weight loss or gain

• Experiencing dizziness or fainting

How to get help

There is no shame if you or a loved one are suffering from an eating disorder. Eating disorders are common, but manageable and treatable. Dentists and physicians can be part of a caring team of professionals that can help people overcome the effects of eating disorders.

If you or someone you know needs help, it’s vital that you talk to your physician or dentist or contact the National Eating Disorders Association.4