I read an article this morning on dentists diagnosing eating disorders. It’s actually something that I’ve always wondered about… mainly because I was always scared that my dentist would call me out on the ED. It’s funny how having a doctor say something about my eating disorder felt oddly validating (maybe because I needed someone to say that I wasn’t okay for my feeling crappy to count), but having the dentist make a comment was mortifying.
I have never gone to the dentist and wanted anything to be wrong. In fact, I’d pray, “Please please please let everything be okay. PLEASE.” During my worst ED points, I’d avoid the dentist completely. I was sure that purging and restricting and whatever else was not good for my teeth (or gums). I did not want to have to explain anything to my dentist. Having seen a few not-nice dentists in my past, I also did not want to be told “how bad what I was doing was for my teeth.” (No kidding, I know that.)
When it came to teeth, I was embarrassed about the ED. It’s hard to explain why I wasn’t so ashamed when it came to other medical issues… but I think it’s because:
- Dentists probably aren’t trained to deal with EDs
- Everyone wants nice teeth
- I felt totally irresponsible not taking care of my teeth. Cavities and whatnot just did not mesh with my perfectionistic drive.
Finally I decided that maybe if I paid a dentist enough they would have to be nice. Isn’t that how things sometimes work? Maybe if I just found an expensive dentist, then he wouldn’t want to offend me by suggesting I had an eating disorder. In hindsight, I don’t know how much sense this actually makes, but it seemed pretty logical at the time.
Anyway, I was lucky enough to find a dentist who didn’t say a thing to me (I saw a cosmetic dentist–which I highly recommend. My insurance covered him, too). I’m sure he knew — I had 4 cavities — but he just fixed what he needed to fixed and I moved on with my life. It was such a relief.
I’m sure that dentists do see evidence of eating disorders months before anyone else (especially if you do go the recommended two times a year)… but there is a difference between your doctor confronting you about your eating disorder from your dentist doing the same. I’m okay talking about it with my PCP (and even my neurologist — hey, why not), but definitely not about to have a conversation about it with my dentist. I don’t know why there is such a big difference between “you’re hurting your body” and “you’re ruining your teeth,” but the former seems like no big deal and the later feels so shameful.