Dental Health Topics

Disappearing Toothpaste and Other Ways Children May Hide Bulimia

Over one-half of teenage girls and nearly one-third of teenage boys use unhealthy weight control behaviors such as skipping meals, fasting, smoking cigarettes, vomiting, and taking laxatives to achieve their ideal self-image.

Bulimia is of particular note to dentists because of how it affects one’s teeth and oral cavity. It’s dangerous and easy to hide. How can you keep your kids safe?
The advice below comes directly from young people who have struggled with bulimia and were successful in hiding their illness for years. We are indebted to Shaye Boddington and her “
Your Bulimia Recovery” website for much of this insight.

Hiding Bulimia

  • Frequent tooth brushing: Purging (intentional vomiting) is a hallmark of bulimia. Because of this, bulimics are known to brush excessively to remove taste and unpleasant olfactory effects. Some bulimics even carry around their own tubes of toothpaste so they’re prepared for any eventuality.
  • Flushing more than once: Ridding the toilet of the purge contents in a single flush can be a challenge. As such, be aware of repeated, repetitive flushing if you know you have a toilet that is in good working order. Also, excessive toilet paper used to catch and cover up remnants of purges is also common.
  • Excessive time at the sink: If a bulimic child suspects a parent or sibling is becoming aware of their behavior, they may forgo use of the toilet altogether, assuming that’s the first place one would look for signs of their condition. As a result, they vomit in the sink or the shower instead.
  • Overconsumption of water: Excessive water intake helps bulimics vomit. Usually, this is done before and after meals.

Other Signs to Look Out For

  • Callused knuckles: Bulimics often trigger a purge by sticking their fingers into their mouths to induce vomiting. This tends to result in the knuckles scraping along the incisors, creating callused knuckles that are hard to ignore. This symptom even has a name: Russell’s Sign.
  • Minty-fresh: As one would expect, bulimics point out the smell of vomiting is difficult to live with – and difficult to remove from their hands. Hyper-scented lotion is often used to cover up the odor, and likewise, breath mints are used to cover up odors within the mouth.
  • Weakening enamel: Stomach acid is the culprit here, and if your dentist suggests your child has an unusual amount of decay, graying, or fraying of their teeth, it would be wise to raise the possibility of Bulimia.
  • Acid reflux: Most youngsters shouldn’t have acid reflux concerns. Be attentive to this telltale sign.

The striking statistic in our intro is only one among the many that highlight the disastrous impact these disorders have on our children. And can carry beyond teens to children as young as 12.
Remember: eating disorders do not discriminate. Be on the lookout.