Righteo, here goes: teeth. Specifically, my teeth. My horrid, ugly, unattractive, rotten, poor teeth.
I’m not having a great day today, so I apologise if all this is rather morose and zzz-worthy. I woke up feeling dreadful, having had a restless night, where the little sleep I did have consisted of yucky, violent dreams about the sexual assaults I experienced as a child. I woke feeling emotionally and physically odd, shattered and low. I’d planned to go for an early morning long cycle, but felt so exhausted and weird – and unsafe – that I didn’t go at all. And I feel so guilty for not doing this session. Or, rather, I feel so flippin’ angry at myself for being so damned useless and pathetic.
And I have toothache. Toothache that’s been raging and worsening for the last month…I had an abscess last October and it’s never really improved since then. I saw the dentist last week for a routine check-up (and to receive a humiliating dressing-down for daring to ask about restorative treatment). She confirmed that I needed the tooth extracted…and that the soonest that it could happen would be in eight weeks’ time. Eight weeks! This dentist is apparently happy to let her client leave her practice in pain, and continue to be in agonising pain for another eight weeks. Is my dentist fulfilling her duty of care, I wonder?
The state of my teeth is a highly distressing, emotional matter for me. It affects every interaction I have, as I cover my mouth to hide the foulness of my teeth. I never smile properly in photos – or smile properly anywhere, to be honest – and the loss of the teeth has altered my facial bone structure too. I’m aware of my teeth’s awfulness, and it pains me greatly that I have caused all of this. I grew up with a wonderful set of gnashers, and took them rather for granted. Until I became bulimic, I required little dental treatment and was proud of having such a heathy mouth. Of course, when I embarked on the Journey of Eating-Disorderness, little advice was around at that time on managing and limiting damage to your teeth whilst being bulimic, and after purging sessions I would brush my teeth immediately. WRONG!! That is so bad for your teeth – and I’d (this is unpleasant, sorry) still have food coming up when I wasn’t making myself sick, so acid would be floating around in my mouth anyway. I’m lucky that I have any teeth left, really. When I was wholly immersed in the bulimic way of life, I knew that I’d be damaging my teeth, but it happened so gradually that I didn’t notice it much, nor think anything of it – and, anyway, you don’t care about those aspects at the time. You’re so desperate to rid yourself of the pain inside that dental matters just don’t occur to you (or if they do, it’s a case of, “So what?” or, more likely, “I deserve to be in pain and have crap teeth anyway”).
I’ve already lost several teeth, and the jagged, eroded teeth that remain easily split and flake, or break. When a piece of tooth falls off, it’s heartbreaking and incredibly distressing for many reasons – I may well be (thankfully) moving away from having an eating disorder, but my teeth continually remind me of my history and the trauma that contributed to me having anorexia and bulimia in the first place.
I cannot seem to escape my past.
I’ve been very honest with my current and recent dentists about my history of bulimia (I don’t see any point of being anything otherwise, they can spot the signs and effects immediately). My current dentist is quite brisk and brusque in her manner, and that never bothered me until recently, when I initially enquired last year about having restorative dental treatment:
“Well yes, your teeth are admittedly very unattractive…but you can’t afford to pay for such treatment. It’s expensive, you know!”
“Your teeth are admittedly very unattractive…”. Nice. Really tactful and client-centred. As well as making the incorrect assumption that I’m too poor to afford such treatment.
I left the dental surgery feeling a fool and was stupidly on the verge of tears. So, when I realised that I had last week’s routine appointment coming up, I resolved to make enquiries again. I’ve researched this subject widely now, and have read several case studies (although there is sparse information in the UK for what treatments are available, and how you go about having such treatment), so I planned and rehearsed what to say regarding the possibility of having, or being referred for restorative treatment.
My dentist’s reaction was unreal – her attitude was that I didn’t deserve treatment, and she kept bullying me, sorry, quizzing me on what it was exactly that I wanted. I explained that, having not had any dental training and having been able only to find American articles and papers on the subject, I didn’t really know what treatment would be best to meet my needs. I said that I wanted teeth that were cosmetically and structurally sound, and explained that I’d contacted the local regional dental training college, and that the clinical lead had kindly recommended a few dental surgeons within the region.
My dentist seemed to be playing cat-and-mouse with me, repeatedly – and harshly – quizzing me on which treatments I wanted, and why I had contacted the dental training school. In the meantime, I was by now having a panic attack, and the friend who had come along to support me did nothing (she told me off afterwards for what I said, and for how I’d handled things. Hmm). I was blushing madly, my brain was buzzy and I couldn’t think straight, and I just wanted to run out; it felt as if I had spotlights shining in my face, with the dentist and the dental assistant both staring heartlessly at me, and I had a weird moment where I carefully reached round to my back, only to realise that sweat was dripping off. Mmm…
Now, as a registered allied health professional myself, I realised afterwards that her manner was wholly out of order. If I am seeing a service user, I’ll explain the range of treatments that I can offer, or ones that are available from other health professionals, and I’ll work together with the service user to try to arrive at the best option for them, or I’ll equip them with that information so that they can go away and take time to think about it all and make a considered decision. I certainly wouldn’t expect that person to know inherently what was available and what each treatment or service involved!!
So, I’m in a difficult place. I want to leave that practice, but my pain is worsening and I must accept that I will lose yet another tooth. I still have eight weeks until the planned extraction, but I really can’t put up with this constant pain that won’t even go with painkillers etc. There are no other NHS dentists within a 40mile radius who are taking new referrals. And it’s really difficult to determine who the better private dentists are – in any case, the ones that I’ve contacted locally aren’t taking on new patients. I don’t know what to do.
And this doesn’t even go anywhere near the issue of where I can have restorative treatment, or what to ask for. My friend says blithely, “Oh, you can just have implants…” – but these are so expensive. I now accept that they are a great long-term solution, and that they’ll probably pay for themselves in the end, and there’s the positive impact they’ll have on my self-confidence and ability to smile…
…but I don’t even know if my jawbone is healthy enough to accept implants.
There’s seemingly no one who can help, and I just don’t know where to turn for advice. The entire matter is really upsetting me, and the lack of support and information is sending my mind into a meltdown. I so want to sort out my teeth, and turn my back on my past…but it feels like I’m being stymied at every turn.
I do NOT know what to do.