If you have an eating disorder, feel no shame and tell your dentist. This is the message from Holly, who is sharing her story to emphasise the importance of dental care when suffering an eating disorder. For many years, Holly had nothing to smile about.
This is Holly’s story:
I was parentless and lost everything by age 14. Raised with affluence in New York City, the price of privilege took its toll. My father, who worked in finance, abandoned us when I was seven. My mother, a socialite, was bipolar and took her life when I was 14. I was never allowed back in our apartment and everything was sold or donated…my childhood erased.
My brothers and I were separated and sent away to boarding schools. New state, new school, new friends, new room, and new roommate. We had no idea which relatives would be taking custody of us or where we would live.
Throwing up to get attention
The trauma decimated me and my life felt completely out of control. Shortly after my arrival at my new school I heard rumors that a student was throwing up all her food. Students were very worried and she got a lot of attention. I was desperate for attention and began vomiting all my meals.
From 1978 to 1991, thirteen dark unhappy years, I struggled with a life threatening eating disorder. I suffered from bulimia and anorexia nervosa. In 1979 I was hospitalized at New York Columbia Hospital in the Nuero 12 Psychiatric Unit; they knew very little about eating disorders.
I was weighed daily, forced to eat meals and had a nurse stand watch over me in the bathroom. The devastating physical ramifications of my disease were never discussed with me or my family.
My teeth suffered the most damage. I rarely saw a dentist from 1978 to 1986. I got my teeth cleaned every couple years, but said nothing to the dentist. The dentist never ever said anything to me about the condition of my teeth.
‘A raging acid mess’
In 1987, I was at a turning point in my recovery. My teeth were extremely painful and it was time to start caring for them and myself. I shamefully and reluctantly told my dentist I was bulimic and anorexic. He listened empathetically and said nothing. I was addicted to sugar juice and bazooka gum. After binges I felt so depleted and juice revived me. The gum was to supplement meals. I was a raging acid mess.
From 1986 to 1988 I had a root canal in every tooth. From 2000 – 2004, I had 25 implants and 10 veneers. I have spent $60,000 restoring my teeth and my collapsing jaw. My gums managed to stay healthy because I really started taking care of my teeth in 1987.
Lost family, lost my teeth
The pain, humiliation and anger I suffered correcting the damage to my mouth was devastating. I cried all through the treatments and felt so angry. I had suffered so much after losing my mother, father and my childhood. The dental work somehow felt like punishment. I was trying so hard to eat three normal meals a day. The dental work was so disruptive to my recovery.I had to drink pureed food and eat limited choices. It was very triggering.
The worst part was wearing all the dental prosthesis until I could get permanent implants. I had teeth literally crumble out of my mouth. I was terrified my tooth flippers would get lost or go flying out of my mouth. I looked like a pirate without my dental flipper prosthesis.
Vomiting and malnutrition harms teeth
I did not learn proper dental care until 2000 when my implant oral surgeon shared information and resources for eating disorder dental care. I was involved in ANADsupport group meetings and that also was a great source of support and information. I was overwhelmed to hear the damage vomiting and malnutrition can do to your teeth .
‘Don’t brush teeth after a binge’
I was finally told not to brush my teeth after a binge. The acid being brushed around would erode the enamel. To neutralize the acid in my mouth I could rinse with baking soda and water. A teaspoon of baking soda and 8oz of warm water. Frequent fluoride treatments were recommended and sugarless gum to keep healthy salivation.
Thank goodness the dental community today is more aware of the horrific ramifications of an eating disorder.
Feel no shame – talk or write to your dentist
I urge and plea sufferers to feel no shame and tell your dentist if you have an eating disorder. If you feel overwhelmed talking to them then write down your eating disorder history and behavior on paper and give it to them.
Humans need air and food to survive. Nobody willingly chooses an eating disorder. Love yourself and get proper dental care.
I now smile with confidence and have no dental issues.
_ Holly Curtis
- Holly got in touch after reading this post on the importance of dental care. If you would like to share your story, email a message to me at: email@example.com
I have written nine books about eating disorders since my recovery (my “reconnection with true self”) from anorexia nervosa and other long term mental health challenges in 2006. In 2017, I graduated as a Doctor of Philosophy (Creative Writing). My contribution to the eating disorder field was recognised at the 2016 Academy for Eating Disorders International Conference in San Francisco where I was awarded the Meehan/Hartley Award for Public Service and Advocacy. I am currently a co-chair of the NEDC Steering Committee Evidence of Experience Group, a foundation steering committee member of the annual World Eating Disorders Action Day, and an Advisory Panel member for F.E.A.S.T.