By: Jean Johnson for Uterus1
“I remember back when I was bulimic and pregnant,” said Alice Clark. “I was so young and scared. Afraid that my husband would find out and divorce me, afraid of people finding out what a horrible mother I was, the whole bit. So clearly, there was no way I was going to tell my dentist or my doctor. Not for my first baby. And not for my second either.
“I lucked out, I guess you could say. The boys were okay and haven’t had any problems. But over the years even after I finally found relief from the bulimia in a 12-step program, my teeth have been a nightmare. I’ve spent thousands of dollars on them, and I’m almost positive it’s from all the binging on sweets and the purging. All that stomach acid corroding my teeth over and over again.”
The Secretive Disorders: Bulimia and Pica
Along with bulimia (binging and purging), pica – an eating disorder in which people eat non-nutritive substances like ice, dirt, clay, laundry starch, paper, string, sand, and stone, among other things – is a secretive behavior and can harm your dental health. Why these behaviors tend to especially crop up during pregnancy is not fully understood.
“If I were to say anything to young women today who are in the disease of bulimia it would be to ‘at least tell your dentist and your doctor,’” Clark said. “They can’t divulge anything you tell them without your permission – even to your husband – and they might be able to help at least a little.
“What people have to do,” she added, “is to think of these professionals as what they are: experts that a person hires to help them with various problems. If you look at it that way, like in terms of science without all the emotional baggage, then you realize that it just makes good sense to give as much information as you can. Otherwise, they’ll be working in the dark and sort of flying blind – which will essentially cost you sooner or later. At least it sure has in my case.”
|Common Sense Tips on Eating Disorders:|
Know that you are not alone and that eating disorders plague seven million American women every year.
Consider checking out an Overeater’s Anonymous (www.oa.org) 12-step meeting in your area. There you will hear people with a range of compulsive eating problems who wish to speak openly and candidly about their disease. Know that all OA meetings are confidential.
Know that pica and bulimia can have long-term consequences for dental health.
If you have an eating disorder during pregnancy, see your dentist for a check up at the very least.
Scholars agree that eating disorders are a serious problem for many young women. Indeed, approximately seven million American women are affected by these diseases each year.
But the question of why pregnant women seem particularly vulnerable is a question still unresolved. In a scholarly article published in the May/June 2006 journal General Dentistry, researches noted that some experts “suggest that cultural and physiological factors are to blame, while others believe depression or iron and zinc deficiencies during pregnancy could be a factor.”
Getting Dental Help
The Academy of General Dentistry (AGD) hopes that whatever the origin, women with eating disorders get help. “Dentists are often the first to witness the physical effects of an eating disorder on an individual’s oral health,” said the Academy of General Dentistry’s spokesperson, Paula Jones, DDS, FAGD.
The AGD points out that, especially for women with eating disorders, getting to the dentist during pregnancy is critical. “While women often believe they should avoid dental care during pregnancy, it is very important for those suffering from eating disorders to continue with their dental visits.”
In sum, dentists know that eating disorders like bulimia and pica are behavioral and emotional diseases that are not changed simply by a professional’s recommendation to stop the behavior. Consequently, instead of hearing a lecture about their wayward disorder, women can expect dental experts to help them try to manage the negative outcomes.
Still, according to Jones, “Many of those who suffer will not self-report the problem.”
That said, patients that can summon the courage to share their secrets with their dentists will have an edge, and unlike Clark, will hopefully not be left with a lifetime of tooth decay and dental bills.
Even if someone suffering can’t bring themselves to tell their dentists, he or she could schedule a general checkup. Dentists understand the subject is a delicate one and are aware of the need to monitor young women for a range of problems including the effects of eating disorders.
As Jones pointed out, “Dentists can detect the signs and provide patients with treatment options.” And as Clark underscores, “Don’t worry about the embarrassment. This is your dentist, not a family friend. In the long run, they will probably forget about it. But even if they don’t, they will probably respect you because you had the good sense to keep them informed even as you were going through something very disturbing and unpleasant.”
The American Pregnancy Association
The American Pregnancy Association (APA) is quite candid about the fact that eating disorders peak during childbearing years “when body image concerns are more prevalent.”
The organization lists various complications that can occur with gestation, although it does point out that “the majority of women with eating disorders can have healthy babies.”
That said, the APA warns of high blood pressure (toxemia) that can lead to premature labor and postpartum depression that can make life very difficult for mother and child in the days and weeks after delivery.
In short, women who have or develop eating disorders while they are pregnant simply compound their suffering. Not only do they risk endangering their own health, in some instances they can compromise the health of their child as well. The harm inflicted on a young pregnant woman’s teeth from her pica and bulimia can last a lifetime.
“I sure wish I had [brought it up] back then,” said Clark. “Here I thought my dentist would think so badly of me. Now I go to someone else entirely and can’t even remember the guy’s name! Even if I was still going to him, I don’t think it’d be an issue one way or the other. In his line of work, he sees things like that all the time. That’s what I try so hard to convince my young friends in OA who are still suffering – that dentists are just like the people you take your car to, except that they work on humans. And if you want them to do their job well, you have to tell them everything that’s going on.”
If you enjoyed this article, you might also be interested in the following:
Eating Disorders Primer
Satisfy Pregnancy Food Cravings the Healthy Way