That awkward moment when you’re bulimic and you go to the dentist.

Let me preface this by saying that I’ve always had pretty good teeth. I got my first cavity around the age of 17 after first becoming bulimic, and even then it was so minor that I didn’t even need to be numbed for my dentist to fill it. I have my parents to thank for some wonderful enamel.

Once I started purging, concern for my dental health flew out the window. Although I still brushed and flossed quite frequently, I figured that my teeth had little chance of coming out of this mess undamaged. When I first told my hygienist that I suffered from bulimia, she recommended that I wait to brush my teeth a good 15-20 minutes after purging. There was some slight erosion on my molars from purging, but other than that, I was in decent shape.

I scheduled a dentist appointment several weeks ago after not going for over a year. I’d simply forgotten to make an appointment, what with the craziness of school and work and treatment. I was also afraid. I’ve always taken pride in my teeth (thank you braces!) and I didn’t want to face the consequences of additional self-inflicted damage.

When I walked into my hygienist’s office, she greeted me with a, “Hi! How have you been! I haven’t seen you in a while.” Of course, I expected this, and mumbled some sort of explanation, smiling the whole time. I felt strangely okay about being there; I was happy that if need be, I could honestly report on good news. She asked me what prescriptions I was taking, if there had been any hospitalizations. “Um, no.” I didn’t want to divulge excess information, though it was technically a lie.

I sat in the big reclining chair and she got right down to business. “So, are you still purging?”

“No, not really since last fall.” It’s hard to explain what it means to be actively purging. There were several weeks during the summer where I purged several times a week, and there were two episodes this fall. Does that mean I was still purging? Technically, yes. I was. But as of finals week, I have not purged once. It’s been over two months.

I’ve witnessed a vast decrease in my purging frequency over the past year. It’s hard to say that I’ve purged this year when I’ve purged only once or twice a month, as opposed to purging on an almost hourly basis (October 2010). My body was so different then. My mind was completely different. I don’t feel that one or two purges can count as actively purging, because they were slips. When I’m actively purging, it’s up to five times a day.

The act of purging does not define my recovery this time around. I’ve enjoyed stability and long periods of not purging at all. There has been such change within me.

After I told her that I’d basically stopped purging, she said something to the effective of, “Well, be sure to buy a fluoride rinse and enamel-restoring toothpaste.” As in, I don’t believe you. And that’s okay. That’s fine. It’s hard to believe a mouth that was once only a disease speaking. But I have a voice now, and it’s my own. I know it will take some time to gain credibility, and I already have in some circles.

She cleaned my teeth and called in the owner of the practice, Dr. Hilliard, who always checks patients’ teeth before they leave. “Well, I wasn’t sure what I was going to see today, but I can see you’ve been doing a good job at home care. Your teeth are looking good.” And that was it. No cavities, no extreme erosion. Almost a perfect bill of dental health.

I have to thank my toothbrush, my floss and myself for changing so radically this past year. I was afraid that my teeth would be severely damaged — my own mother just recently lost a tooth to bulimia. And while it may seem superficial, only a tooth, I cannot describe to you the pain of watching my mother, only in her forties, take out a fake tooth and set it aside her plate while she eats. Her swollen cheeks after oral surgery, the constant battle with pain after root canals.

As a child, there was a definite hope in me that if I was good enough, if I loved her enough, maybe I could save her. I gave her endless hugs, I sang with her after hopeless nights, “You are my sunshine.” I was there when she was called to the emergency room, when she left a sinking hole in my chest as I watched her leave from behind the windows. I’ve watched her stay stagnant, or shrinking, as I grow. I’ve watched her not change. I’ve watched her suffer.

I will hold her bony hands in her last moments, if there is time to get there. I’ll hold on, likely desperate. I know that it will be very hard and I know that it will hurt to recall how she has suffered so much in her life with little reprieve. I will remind myself that there was little I could do.

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