After your son or daughter's dental exam, you expect to hear about cavities, poor bites or other dental problems. But your dentist might suggest a different kind of problem you didn't expect—an eating disorder.
It's not a fluke occurrence—a dental exam is a common way bulimia nervosa or anorexia nervosa come to light. That's because the teeth are often damaged by the behaviors of a patient with an eating disorder.
Most of this damage occurs because of purging, the practice of induced vomiting after eating. During vomiting stomach acid can enter the mouth and "wash" against the back of the teeth. After repeated episodes, the acid dissolves the mineral content of tooth enamel and causes it to erode. There's also a tell-tale pattern with eating disorders: because the tongue partially shields the back of the lower teeth while purging, the lower teeth may show less enamel erosion than the upper.
Hygiene practices, both negligent and too aggressive, can accelerate erosion. Anorexics often neglect basic grooming and hygiene like brushing and flossing, which increases the likelihood of dental disease. Bulimia patients, on the other hand, can be fastidious about their hygiene. They're more likely to brush immediately after purging, which can cause tiny bits of the enamel immediately softened by the acid wash to slough off.
In dealing with a family member's eating disorder, you should consider both a short and long-term approach to protect their dental health. In the sort-term the goal is to treat the current damage and minimize the extent of any future harm. In that regard, encourage them to rinse with water (mixed optionally with baking soda to help neutralize acid) after purging, and wait an hour before brushing. This will give saliva in the mouth a chance to fully neutralize any remaining acid. Your dentist may also recommend a sodium fluoride mouth rinse to help strengthen their tooth enamel.
For the long-term, your goal should be to help your loved one overcome this potentially life-threatening condition through counseling and therapy. To find out more about treatment resources near you, visit the National Eating Disorders Association website at nationaleatingdisorders.org. Taking steps to treat an eating disorder could save not only your loved one's dental health, but also their life.
If you would like more information on eating disorders and dental health, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Bulimia, Anorexia & Oral Health.”
Tooth sensitivity can be quite uncomfortable. But the glancing pain you feel may be more than an irritation — it may also be telling you there’s a deeper problem that needs attention.
As with other types of oral pain, tooth sensitivity can be a symptom for a variety of problems. Some of them are relatively minor, while others require immediate attention. It’s important to pay attention to the details about your tooth sensitivity and what they might be indicating you should do about it.
For example, your teeth may be sensitive to hot or cold foods or beverages. If it’s just a momentary pain it generally doesn’t mean an emergency — it could be a small area of decay on a tooth, a loose filling or an exposed root due to gum recession or overaggressive brushing. Besides seeing us for treatment for any decay, you can adjust your brushing habits to more gentle pressure with a soft-bristled brush. Fluoride toothpaste has also been shown to reduce this kind of sensitivity.
If, however, the pain from hot or cold substances lingers, then decay or some form of trauma may have affected the pulp, the innermost layer of a tooth. The pulp is rich in nerve fibers and can become inflamed and irritated from the decay or injury. You should visit us as soon as possible: you may require a root canal treatment that will not only relieve the pain but also save the tooth.
If you notice a sharp pain when biting down on food, it’s possible you have a loose filling or even a cracked tooth. As with inner decay, a fracture requires immediate attention. A loose filling should be easy to repair, but if it’s a fracture you may need extensive treatment to save the tooth or, if beyond salvage, have the tooth removed to make way for dental implant or similar restoration.
The key point is not to delay seeking treatment, especially if the pain is persistent, severe or long-lasting. The sooner you visit us about your tooth sensitivity, the sooner you’ll have solutions to stop the discomfort.
If you would like more information on tooth pain, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Tooth Pain? Don’t Wait!”
Eating disorders cause more than psychological harm. The binge-purge cycle of bulimia or the self-starvation patterns of anorexia can also injure the physical body, especially the mouth.
For example, nine in ten people with bulimia will experience tooth enamel erosion from stomach acid entering the mouth from induced vomiting. Although purging is less frequent with anorexic patients, one in five will also develop erosion.
An eating disorder isn't the only reason for enamel erosion: you can have high acid levels from over-consuming sodas, energy drinks or certain foods, or not properly brushing and flossing every day. But erosion related to an eating disorder does produce a distinct pattern in the teeth. When a person vomits, the tongue moves forward and presses against the bottom teeth, which somewhat shields them from acid contact. This can create less erosion in the lower front teeth than in others.
Eating disorders can cause other oral effects. Stomach acid contact can eventually burn and damage the mouth's soft tissues. The salivary glands may become enlarged and cause puffiness along the sides of the face. The use of fingers or other objects to induce gagging can injure and redden the back of the throat, the tongue and other soft tissues.
It's important to stop or at least slow the damage as soon as possible. To do so requires both a short– and long-term strategy. In the short-term, we want to neutralize mouth acid as soon as possible after it enters the mouth, especially after purging. Rather than brushing, it's better to rinse out the mouth with water or with a little added baking soda to neutralize the acid. This will at least help reduce the potential damage to enamel.
In the long-term, though, we need to address the disorder itself for the sake of both the person's overall well-being and their oral health. You can speak with us or your family physician about options for counseling and therapy to overcome an eating disorder. You may also find it helpful to visit the website for the National Eating Disorders Association (nationaleatingdisorders.org) for information and a referral network.
If you would like more information on how eating disorders can affect health, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Bulimia, Anorexia & Oral Health.”
The movie Bohemian Rhapsody celebrates the iconic rock band Queen and its legendary lead vocalist, Freddie Mercury. But when we see pictures of the flamboyant singer, many fans both old and new may wonder—what made Freddie’s toothy smile look the way it did? Here’s the answer: The singer was born with four extra teeth at the back of his mouth, which caused his front teeth to be pushed forward, giving him a noticeable overbite.
The presence of extra teeth—more than 20 primary (baby) teeth or 32 adult teeth—is a relatively rare condition called hyperdontia. Sometimes this condition causes no trouble, and an extra tooth (or two) isn’t even recognized until the person has an oral examination. In other situations, hyperdontia can create problems in the mouth such as crowding, malocclusion (bad bite) and periodontal disease. That’s when treatment may be recommended.
Exactly what kind of treatment is needed? There’s a different answer for each individual, but in many cases the problem can be successfully resolved with tooth extraction (removal) and orthodontic treatment (such as braces). Some people may be concerned about having teeth removed, whether it’s for this problem or another issue. But in skilled hands, this procedure is routine and relatively painless.
Teeth aren’t set rigidly in the jawbone like posts in cement—they are actually held in place dynamically by a fibrous membrane called the periodontal ligament. With careful manipulation of the tooth, these fibers can be dislodged and the tooth can be easily extracted. Of course, you won’t feel this happening because extraction is done under anesthesia (often via a numbing shot). In addition, you may be given a sedative or anti-anxiety medication to help you relax during the procedure.
After extraction, some bone grafting material may be placed in the tooth socket and gauze may be applied to control bleeding; sutures (stitches) are sometimes used as well. You’ll receive instructions on medication and post-extraction care before you go home. While you will probably feel discomfort in the area right after the procedure, in a week or so the healing process will be well underway.
Sometimes, dental problems like hyperdontia need immediate treatment because they can negatively affect your overall health; at other times, the issue may be mainly cosmetic. Freddie Mercury declined treatment because he was afraid dental work might interfere with his vocal range. But the decision to change the way your smile looks is up to you; after an examination, we can help you determine what treatment options are appropriate for your own situation.
If you have questions about tooth extraction or orthodontics, please contact our office or schedule a consultation. You can read more in the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Simple Tooth Extraction” and “The Magic of Orthodontics.”
You may be familiar with a dental implant used to replace a single tooth — but implant technology can do much more. Implants can also support other restorations including total teeth replacement on a jaw.
The reason they're so versatile is because implants replace the tooth root as well as the visible crown. We use a metal post, usually made of titanium, which we surgically implant in the jawbone as a root substitute. Because of a special affinity with titanium, bone around the implant grows and adheres to it and creates a durable bond.
With a single tooth replacement (the implant's original purpose when they were introduced in the 1980s) we attach a life-like porcelain crown to the individual titanium post. But with their continuing development we've adapted implants for other applications, like using a few strategically-placed implants as a stable platform for removable dentures or fixed bridges.
We're now able to use implants to support a full prosthetic (false) dental arch. Though similar in appearance to a removable denture, this particular prosthesis is permanently joined to the supporting implants with retaining screws.
Of course, the application requires careful pre-planning, which includes making sure you have enough healthy bone to support the implants. We'll also need to determine how many implants you'll need (usually four to six for this application) and create a surgical guide to place them in the best location for supporting the prosthesis. A dental technician will then create the prosthesis to match your jaw ridge contours and facial structure.
Using implants this way has a benefit other types of restorations can't provide: they may help stop future bone loss. The jawbone life cycle depends on stimulation from the attached tooth as you bite and chew — stimulation that ends when you lose the tooth. Traditional dentures and other restorations can't replicate that stimulation. Implants, on the other hand, directly encourage bone growth and can stop gradual bone loss.
If you need some form of total teeth replacement, consider one supported by implants. You may find they'll provide an excellent long-term solution to both function and appearance.
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