I live uncomfortably post-eating disorder in fear that I might’ve done some irreparable harm to my body over the years of violently making myself sick multiple times a day, so I have as a result avoided going to seek medical advice on those potential lasting effects to my physical health – but in truth, I know in my heart that you can’t be a professional bulimic for half a decade and not have caused some damage.
Eve has been nudging me to go to my GP about some ear problems I’ve been experiencing for a while, where my ears will pop (the way they might on a plane) for days at a time, and I am convinced that this is probably due to the enormous pressure wretching puts on your ears. The thought of having vandalised my own body is a difficult thing for me to face up to, as it a) confirms that all those years of pain actually did happen and b) that I’m going to be stuck with a reminder of my eating disorder each time I smile through my off-white teeth.
I’m aware that rinsing my mouth out with my own stomach bile repeatedly has painted my teeth a beautiful canary-yellow colour because my four front teeth are crowns (I broke them as a young bean when my little brother tripped me up while lying down pretending to be dead on our garage floor and I piled over him forgetting to put my arms out and smashing my face on the concrete…but that’s a story for a different day.) and in comparison to my natural teeth, these have remained relatively white, the contrast detailing the destruction of my bulimia.
I’m also aware that compulsively making yourself sick has probably had other detrimental effects on my physical health that I need to deal with in time, but having only just finally been able to tackle the mental health beast living within my eating disorder, I think I’m almost ready to make some bodily progress – teeth first.
I spoke to one of my good friends from back home who was sensible enough to get a proper job as a dentist – not a fluffy writing one – and asked her what happens to your teeth when you make yourself sick, so she pointed me in the direction of the Colgate website, which reads: “Frequent vomiting may cause your salivary glands to swell and the tissues of your mouth and tongue to become dry, red and sore. People with bulimia may have chronic sore throat and small haemorrhages under the skin of the palate.
“Frequent vomiting can erode your tooth enamel, especially on the tongue side of the upper front teeth. This sharply increases the risk for decay in these areas and can make these teeth sensitive to temperature. Severe erosion can lead to changes in your bite, or the way your upper and lower teeth come together. Your back teeth can be reduced in size and some teeth can even be lost eventually. Tooth erosion can take about three years to become obvious, but not all bulimics experience it.”
Consulting a dentist during my time as a bulimic was never something I thought to be necessary, but it absolutely makes sense after reading the above. During bulimia recovery, it’s unusual for you to stop making yourself sick cold turkey – I know, it took me a while – so Colgate advises: “To minimise damage done by stomach acid during episodes of vomiting, rinse your mouth with baking soda mixed in water. You also should rinse with a mouthwash containing .05 percent fluoride, which your dentist can prescribe. Don’t brush your teeth immediately after vomiting because stomach acid weakens tooth enamel and brushing can cause erosion of the enamel. When you do brush, use a toothpaste that contains fluoride. Fluoride helps strengthen teeth.” But please, make sure you go to your own dentist first and foremost for advise – and if possible, an eating disorder professional too.
Once your bulimia is under control, you may need to have some of your teeth restored if damage has been done. Colgate says that if the enamel loss is stopped at an early stage, it can be replaced using materials called composite resin or amalgam. More severe erosion will require tooth extraction. Lost teeth can be replaced with bridges or implants.
As I write this piece, I can feel my stomach tighten and my teeth become more sensitive, almost curling in my mouth. It’s all well and good preaching to Not Plant Based readers that this is what happens to your teeth during bulimia blah blah and telling people to seek advice from their own doctors blah, but isn’t that hugely hypocritical of me? It’s probably about time I confessed to my own dentist about my past in order to face up to the harm I might’ve done to my teeth. I’ll keep you updated on that…maybe I’ll do a follow up on my own appointment…
As for my vanity, I could always get my teeth professionally whitened when/if I have the money to do so, and I’m absolutely not against that idea of that in the future. For now, my life is about trying to face my problems and my past head on without crumpling into a whimpering heap each time I remember that I’ve failed – bulimia, for me, is something I still consider to be a huge failure in my life, rightly or wrongly. But as J K Rowling once famously said: “It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all – in which case, you fail by default.”
I’m trying to accept that my discoloured teeth aren’t necessarily a display of my failings, but are trophies representing what I have been able to overcome, and that is seven years of mental illness. If that isn’t something to flash a non-Hollywood smile about, I don’t know what is.
Next stop after the dentist…the ear doctor.