The mouth isn’t an island unto itself — problems there may be indicative of deeper physical or emotional issues. Â The condition of a family member’s teeth and gums, for example, could be signs of bulimia, an eating disorder.
Characterized by food binging and purging through self-induced vomiting, bulimia can also have a severe effect on the teeth. Regular inducement of vomiting introduces stomach acid into the mouth that can attack and soften the mineral content of tooth enamel. As a result, 90% of bulimics develop enamel erosion.
The erosion pattern often differs from that produced by other high acid causes like the over-consumption of sodas. Because the tongue instinctively covers the back of the bottom teeth during vomiting, they’re often shielded from much of the acid wash. Bulimics are much more apt to exhibit heavier erosion on the upper front teeth, particularly on the tongue side and biting edges.
Bulimia and similar disorders produce other signs as well, like soft tissue ulceration or swollen salivary glands that exhibit puffiness of the face. The roof of the mouth, throat and back of the tongue may appear roughened from the use of fingers or objects to induce gagging.
Unlike sufferers of anorexia nervosa who tend to be negligent about their hygiene (which itself increases their risk of dental disease), bulimics have a heightened sensitivity to their appearance. This concern may prompt them to aggressively brush right after purging, which can cause more of the softened enamel to be removed.
Treating the dental consequences of bulimia requires a two-pronged approach. In the short term, we want to lessen the impact of stomach acid by discouraging the person from brushing immediately after purging — better to rinse with water and a little baking soda to buffer the acid and wait about an hour before brushing. We may also suggest a sodium fluoride mouth rinse to help strengthen and re-mineralize the enamel.
In the long-term, though, the disorder itself must be addressed through professional help. One good source is the National Eating Disorders website (nationaleatingdisorders.org). Besides information, the association also provides a toll-free helpline for referrals to professionals.
As with any eating disorder, bulimia can be trying for patients and their families. Addressing the issue gently but forthrightly will begin their journey toward the renewal of health, including their teeth and gums.
If you would like more information on the effect of eating disorders on 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.”
If we could go back in time, we all probably have a few things we wish we could change. Recently, Dr. Travis Stork, emergency room physician and host of the syndicated TV show The Doctors, shared one of his do-over dreams with Dear Doctor magazine: “If I [could have] gone back and told myself as a teenager what to do, I would have worn a mouthguard, not only to protect my teeth but also to help potentially reduce risk of concussion.”
What prompted this wish? The fact that as a teenage basketball player, Stork received an elbow to the mouth that caused his two front teeth to be knocked out of place. The teeth were put back in position, but they soon became darker and began to hurt. Eventually, both were successfully restored with dental crowns. Still, it was a painful (and costly) injury — and one that could have been avoided.
You might not realize it, but when it comes to dental injuries, basketball ranks among the riskier sports. Yet it’s far from the only one. In fact, according to the American Dental Association (ADA), there are some two dozen others — including baseball, hockey, surfing and bicycling — that carry a heightened risk of dental injury. Whenever you’re playing those sports, the ADA recommends you wear a high-quality mouth guard.
Mouthguards have come a long way since they were introduced as protective equipment for boxers in the early 1900’s. Today, three different types are widely available: stock “off-the-shelf” types that come in just a few sizes; mouth-formed “boil-and-bite” types that you adapt to the general contours of your mouth; and custom-made high-quality mouthguards that are made just for you at the dental office.
Of all three types, the dentist-made mouthguards are consistently found to be the most comfortable and best-fitting, and the ones that offer your teeth the greatest protection. What’s more, recent studies suggest that custom-fabricated mouthguards can provide an additional defense against concussion — in fact, they are twice as effective as the other types. That’s why you’ll see more and more professional athletes (and plenty of amateurs as well) sporting custom-made mouthguards at games and practices.
“I would have saved myself a lot of dental heartache if I had worn a mouthguard,” noted Dr. Stork. So take his advice: Wear a mouthguard whenever you play sports — unless you’d like to meet him (or one of his medical colleagues) in a professional capacity…
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 National Safety Council has designated June as National Safety Month. A key component of staying safe is being prepared for emergencies, and this includes dental emergencies. Would you know what to do if you suffered any of the following dental mishaps?
Chipped tooth: One common dental injury is a chipped tooth. If this happens to you, save the missing chip if possible because we may be able to bond it back onto the tooth—but don’t be tempted to glue the chip back on by yourself! However, even without the missing chip, the tooth can most often be repaired with bonding material.
Cracked tooth: If you crack a tooth, rinse your mouth with warm water. If it is bleeding, hold a clean washcloth or gauze to the area until the bleeding stops, but don’t wiggle the tooth around or bite down hard. Keep in mind that the sooner your tooth is repaired, the better. Depending on how bad the crack is, if the tooth can be treated, it will most likely continue to function pain-free for years to come.
Displaced (“luxated”) tooth: If an injury causes your tooth to become loose, shoves it sideways or pushes it into or out of its socket, don’t try to force the tooth back into position on your own. Instead, call the dental office right away and leave it to us to bring the tooth back into its proper place and determine the extent of the injury.
Knocked out tooth: If a permanent tooth is knocked out of your mouth, pick it up without touching the root and rinse it off with cold water, but do not scrub. For the best chance of saving the tooth, place it firmly back in its socket within five minutes and hold it in position for a few minutes. If this is not possible, keep the tooth between your cheek and gum or in a glass of cold milk so that it doesn’t dry out. Call the dental office immediately.
If a baby tooth is knocked out, there is no need to place it back in the socket since baby teeth are not reattached. However, it is still important to have us examine the injury.
Being prepared for dental emergencies can help save a tooth as well as avoid more costly dental treatment down the road. But no matter what type of dental injury you have, it is important to come in for a consultation as the injury may extend beyond the part of the tooth that is visible. With today’s materials and technology, there’s a very good chance your smile can look as good as before—and often even better!
If you have questions about dental injuries, please contact our office or schedule a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Trauma and Nerve Damage to Teeth” and “Artistic Repair of Front Teeth with Composite Resin.”
When he isn’t among the ten players vying for position on the basketball court, Cole Aldrich of the New York Knicks sometimes lets his dangle behind one ear. Mason Plumlee, who plays for the Brooklyn Nets, slips his snugly inside one of his socks during off times. Other players can be seen at timeouts gnawing on them nervously, or tucking them into spandex waistbands. But when the whistle blows, they go into the mouth before the players get on the court.
We’re talking about protective mouthguards, of course. According to a recent story in the New York Times, only a handful of basketball players wore them regularly a few years ago. Today, more and more are wearing them, both in practice and during games. What’s the reason for the change?
Partly, it’s the result of better design and improved construction; today’s mouthguards are more comfortable and better-fitting than ever. Part of it comes from mounting evidence that they work: Research studies have consistently demonstrated the benefits of wearing a mouthguard — not only to protect the teeth, but also to reduce the risk of concussion. And partly, it stems from the growing acceptance that safety is an important aspect of all athletic activity.
If the pros are doing it — shouldn’t you be too? While you may think that only contact sports (such as football) are risky, the fact is that “non-contact” sports like baseball and basketball account for the majority of dental injuries. In fact, the American Dental Association recommends you wear a mouthguard when you participate in activities like handball, soccer, surfing and weight lifting — as well as boxing, skydiving, martial arts and “extreme sports” — whatever that may mean to you.
What’s the best kind of mouthguard? It’s the one that you actually wear, of course! And the most comfortable and best-fitting mouthguard is the one that’s custom-made for you by your dentist. Sure, you can pick up an off-the-shelf mouthguard at a big box store; but it can’t offer you the same level of protection and comfort you’ll get from a mouthguard that is made from a model of your own teeth. Custom-made mouthguards from your dentist are reasonably priced — and by preventing dental trauma, they can save an untold amount of hurt… both to your body and to your pocketbook.
So take a tip from the pros: Get a custom-made mouthguard, and wear it every time you play. But when you’re done playing… how about putting it away in a case?
If you would like more information about custom-made athletic mouthguards, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can learn more by reading the Dear Doctor magazine articles “An Introduction to Sports Injuries & Dentistry” and “Athletic Mouthguards.”
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