teeth and eating disorders don’t mix


i spent the morning having dental molds of my teeth made, so my dentist could make a model of my mouth and we could start putting together a plan to replace the eight teeth i’ve had to have removed, and crown the ones that they were able to save with root canals. just one of the unintended and expensive side-effects an eating disorder brings to the table.

shame is another one.

i never gave much thought to the damage i was doing to my teeth by throwing up tens of times a day, almost every day. in a distant corner of my mind that i tried not to pay attention to, i knew was probably bad. how bad though still came as something of a shock. between the vomiting, the scrubbing into my teeth of dental acid by brushing after purging, and my off-the-chart diet soda consumption i pretty much killed them all.

i made it to the summer of 2012 before the real problems set in. i was lucky. fellow sufferers i’d been travelling with had already started to lose theirs. that mine lasted a little longer was probably due to excellent dental care in my youth. thanks, mom and dad.

the first sign of things to come happened while i was at a pub. i bit into a piece of shrimp and one of my back teeth shattered. i thought at first the coconut batter was simply extra crunchy. once i figured out that it was a tooth, i thought that it was simply a broken filling. i didn’t know that the tooth had been fatally weakened. i didn’t know it had basically exploded. i didn’t know that i was walking around with multiple infected abscesses.

i cried when they tried to freeze it. the massive infection made their attempts horrendously painful. it was the first of many breakdowns i had at the dental office. the hygienist held my hand and spoke gently to me. i’m always astounded when people show me kindness.

not everyone loves going to the dentist, even at the best of times. we love it less when we need fillings. root canals make it harder, and extractions are the worst of all. the past several years have made me an expert on that hierarchy.

the infections made everything so much worse. it made it hard to freeze things and the freezing didn’t last well. nerves waking up in the middle of a root canal is indescribably awful. the procedures felt like torture, only it was done voluntarily and i paid for the privilege.  the pain was constant and my misery was exacerbated by my feelings of shame. i did this. i did this to myself. this was my fault. it was because of my failures, my insufficiency, my inability to stop my eating disorder, and my essential uselessness that i was in this situation. i told myself that repeatedly.

i had five root canals over that summer, and the first of multiple extractions. by the end, it was a struggle to open my mouth for the needles, and i had to get high on benzodiazepines to go. it was a whole new area for my anxiety to feed on.

multiple root canals and extractions require pain control. the appetite suppressing effects of the codeine made my eating disorder stand up and cheer. it’s really not the smartest disease. i was in daily agony from the results of my behaviour and yet part of my brain still thought carrying-on was the best thing to do. a mouth full of stitches and wounds yet my bulimia was trying to tell me that purging probably wouldn’t be that bad.

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more extractions are coming but i need to start the process of rebuilding. it’s surprisingly hard to eat when you are missing that many teeth. a partial isn’t an option either; there aren’t enough teeth left to attach it to.

the issues with my teeth make me feel ashamed. it’s hard to be kind to yourself when you see the results of your behaviour every time you look in a mirror. i don’t grin or smile much anymore; the gaps embarrass me, make me want to believe i’m “less than”. the acid from vomiting didn’t just destroy my molars and pre-molars. it also wore down my front teeth until they broke off, leaving only a fraction behind. i feel pretty, indeed.

my dentist is brilliant. he’s kind and supportive and doesn’t judge me in a negative manner. this makes him somewhat unique when i compare him with medical professionals in general. many, upon hearing i suffer from an eating disorder and mental illnesses seem to feel the need to lecture, patronize, and criticize. it doesn’t occur to them that i don’t need their help to feel ashamed. it doesn’t seem to occur to them that i hate myself enough already.

my current dentist never made me feel like i was a horrible person, or a freak, or a failure. he was calm, and kind, and sympathetic. he didn’t judge. it didn’t matter though. i didn’t need him to attack me. i criticized and attacked myself every time i left his office. what was happening to me was my fault.

i’m on a first name basis with much of the dental office staff. it’s hard to hold onto formality and reserve when they’ve seen you burst into tears after learning that yet another tooth has to go. it’s an awkwardness. a forced and false intimacy. i feel the same way about them remembering me as i do about the staff at my pharmacy knowing my name. how did i come to this point, where i’m so familiar to medical personnel? how did i end up here, where my disorders and neuroses are known to so many?

if i could go back in time to the early days of my eating disorder with the what i now know about my teeth, dental care, pain, and suffering, perhaps i’d choose differently. probably not but perhaps. i’ve certainly made other bad choices in the face of obvious negative consequences.

i can function as a warning, however.

if i could stop someone who’s still in the early stages of their eating disorder, it might even make it worth it. i’d like it if my miseries could be turned into a positive for someone. i want the people who are just starting down this road to really know about consequences they either can’t see or underestimate. they can be really bad.

i wanted to be thin. i wanted to be pretty. i wanted to be perfect. i didn’t want to be traumatized. i didn’t want to be toothless. i didn’t want to be in pain, day in and out, for months. i didn’t want the physical act of eating to be a challenge. i didn’t want to feel ashamed all the time, though i’m working on changing that into the healthier emotion of guilt. i didn’t want to spend thousands of dollars on dental care, with thousands more to come. i only wanted to be free from my psychic and spiritual pain. irony. it’s a bitch.

photo credit: belmarrahealth.com

january 17, 2018 teeth and eating disorders don’t mix

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