I remember the first time a dentist told me I might need dentures. I was barely 30 years old. I couldn’t believe it. I knew my teeth were bad. I knew that eating disorders were to blame. But dentures? Me? Seriously?
I had always had great teeth growing up. I wore braces as a teenager and took good care of my teeth. My family and friends used to tell me all the time that I had a beautiful smile.
But bulimia and anorexia took all that away. My beautiful smile was gone. Literally.
When most people think of eating disorders, there’s an immediate focus on body weight, nutrition, and physical appearance. Yet, there are other health consequences that can be just as damaging.
One of the lesser known effects of bulimia is the severe damage it can do to your teeth. When you have bulimia, you don’t just empty your stomach of food and deprive your body of nutrients. The stomach acids produced by self-induced vomiting destroy tooth enamel and can cause significant oral health problems including severe tooth decay and significant loss of permanent teeth. Your teeth affect your whole body. When your teeth are healthy, you are healthier too. Missing teeth can affect your bite, speech, and eating choices. You may also experience headaches and/or jaw pain.
Bulimia can cause other oral health issues too, including gum pain, dry mouth, chronic sore throat, inflamed esophagus, enlarged glands, and jaw alignment abnormalities.
I experienced many of these symptoms and, as a result, made a lot of trips to dentists over the years. But, as my teeth deteriorated, I became more and more embarrassed and ashamed about the condition of my teeth so I stopped going to the dentist. That just compounded the problem.
When I finally got the courage to go back, the damage was pretty bad. I was afraid to open my mouth or smile in front of people. It hurt to eat and chew. When you don’t take proper care of your teeth, dental care can become very expensive, and I needed a lot of work. So, I spent years slogging from dentist to dentist, looking for quick or temporary fixes that I could afford—a crown here and a cap there—hoping to stop my teeth from crumbling.
But the reality was that the damage been done. That’s when I started being told I might need dentures. That was a huge blow to my self-esteem and confidence. But then something amazing happened. My dentist, Dr. David Scardella, met an oral surgeon, Dr. William Lane, through a professional study club and they started to discuss my unique and challenging case caused by an eating disorder. They told me they could help and came up with a permanent solution to replace my teeth called dental implants. This was something I had never heard of before. Dental implants are not dentures or partial or temporary cosmetic fixes. They are permanent teeth that act just like your own natural teeth. They safeguard and preserve your bone structure, oral health, and appearance.
It is taking a few different surgeries to remove the remains of my bad teeth and to implant my permanent porcelain teeth but so far everything is going incredibly well. I never thought I’d get this chance to have a beautiful smile again, but it’s happening.
If eating disorders have damaged your teeth, if you are experiencing the same struggles I did, I want you to know that there is hope, there are options, and you can smile again. And with a new smile, those of us who have struggled with eating disorders can find renewed self-esteem, confidence, and a better quality of life.
Kaitlin grew up on the south shore of Massachusetts and now lives and works in the greater Boston area. She is an eating disorder survivor with lots of reasons to smile. Kaitlin has started a video journal documenting her story and her journey to a new smile. You can watch the first video journal entry here.