Eating disorders of all kinds appear to be on the rise. Blame it on the media, the dissolution of the family unit, peer pressure, increased diagnoses … anything, really. The fact of the matter is 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 tends to affect one’s teeth and oral cavity. It’s dangerous and easy to hide. How can you keep your kids safe?
The advice you’ll read 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.
- Frequent toothbrushing: Purging (intentional vomiting) is a hallmark of bulimia. Because of this, bulimics are known to brush exceedingly often to remove taste and unpleasant olfactory effects of doing so on a regular basis. 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 contents of a purge 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 use to catch and cover up remnants of these purge events 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 circumvent your attentiveness by vomiting in the sink or the shower instead. The water tends to serve as a cover because most parents are unsuspecting of a sink left running for any real period of time.
- 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 tend to 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. That said, some bulimics are so good at vomiting on cue they can do so without the use of their fingers whatsoever.
- 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.
Remember eating disorders do not discriminate. Be on the lookout.