Although dental care is our primary focus, we dentists are also on the lookout for other health problems that may manifest in the mouth. That's why we're sometimes the first to suspect a patient may have an eating disorder.
Eating disorders are abnormal dietary patterns that can arise from mental or emotional issues, the most common being anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa. Each has different behaviors: Anorexics abnormally restrict their food intake (“self-starvation”), while bulimics typically eat heavily and then induce vomiting (“binge and purge”).
Although bulimics are more likely to binge and purge, anorexics may also induce vomiting. That practice in particular can leave a clue for dentists. While vomiting, powerful stomach acid enters the mouth, which can then soften and erode tooth enamel.
It's the pattern of erosion a dentist may notice more than the erosion itself that may indicate an eating disorder. A person while vomiting normally places their tongue against the back of the lower teeth, which somewhat shields them from acid. The more exposed upper teeth will thus tend to show more erosion than the bottom teeth.
A dentist may also notice other signs of an eating disorder. Enlarged salivary glands or a reddened throat and tongue could indicate the use of fingers or objects to induce vomiting. Lack of oral hygiene can be a sign of anorexia, while signs of over-aggressive brushing or flossing may hint of bulimia.
For the sake of the person's overall well-being, the eating disorder should be addressed through professional counseling and therapy. An excellent starting point is the website nationaleatingdisorders.org, sponsored by the National Eating Disorders Association.
The therapy process can be lengthy, so patients should also take steps to protect their teeth in the interim. One important measure is to rinse out the mouth following purging with a little baking soda mixed with water. This will help neutralize oral acid and reduces the risk of erosion. Proper brushing and flossing and regular dental visits can also help prevent dental disease.
An eating disorder can be traumatic for both patients and their families, and can take time to overcome. Even so, patients can reduce its effect on their dental health.
If you would like more information on eating disorders and dental care, 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.”
A scoop of ice cream is one of life's little pleasures. But for one in three Americans, it could be something altogether different—an excruciating pain when cold ice cream meets teeth. This short but painful experience that can happen when dental nerves encounter hot or cold temperatures is called tooth sensitivity.
A look at tooth anatomy will help explain why. Teeth are mainly composed of outer enamel, a layer of nerves and blood vessels within the tooth called the pulp, and dentin, a porous layer in between. The pulp nerves pick up temperature and pressure sensations from outside the teeth through a network of tiny passageways (tubules) in the dentin. Enamel muffles these sensations before traveling the tubules, which prevents overstimulation of the nerves.
This careful balance can be disrupted, however, if the enamel becomes eroded by acid from foods or beverages, or as a byproduct of bacteria. This exposes the underlying dentin to the full brunt of outward sensations, which can then impact the nerves and cause them to overreact.
This hyper-sensitivity can also occur around the tooth roots, but for a different reason. Because the gums primarily protect this area rather than enamel, the roots can become hyper-sensitive if they lose gum coverage, a condition known as gum recession caused mainly by gum disease or over-aggressive hygiene.
Besides using dental products that block nerve sensation, reducing sensitivity largely depends on addressing the underlying cause. If gum disease, the focus is on removing plaque, a bacterial film on dental surfaces that causes and sustains the disease. Stopping an infection allows the gums to heal and hopefully regain their original teeth coverage. More advanced cases, though, may require grafting surgery to foster gum regeneration.
If the cause is enamel erosion or other results of decay or trauma, we can utilize a number of treatments depending on the extent of tooth damage including cavity filling, root canal therapy or crowning. As a last resort, we may need to remove a tooth that's beyond reasonable repair.
If you've begun to experience sensitive teeth, it's important that you see us as soon as possible. The earlier we can diagnose the cause, the less invasive we can be with treatments to ease or even stop this most unpleasant experience.
If you would like more information on tooth sensitivity, 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 “Treatment of Tooth Sensitivity.”
Performing for an awards show is a quite a feather in an entertainer's cap. So, up-and-coming country music star Carly Pearce was obviously excited when she gained a slot on last November's Country Music Awards. But an accident a couple of weeks before the event almost derailed her opportunity when she fell and knocked out two of her front teeth.
Fortunately, Pearce took quick action and, thanks to a skilled dental and medical team, was able to put her mouth back together before the show. Those watching her perform her hit single, “I Hope You're Happy Now,” as she smiled broadly would never have known otherwise about her traumatic emergency if she hadn't spilled the beans.
Orofacial injuries can happen to anyone, not just entertainers. You or someone you love could face such an injury from a motor vehicle accident, hard sports contact or, like Pearce, a simple slip and fall. But if you also act quickly like Pearce, you may be able to minimize the injury's long-term impact on dental health and appearance.
Here are some guidelines if you suffer a dental injury:
Collect any tooth fragments. Dental injuries can result in parts of teeth—or even a whole tooth—coming out of the mouth. It may be possible, though, to use those fragments to repair the tooth. Try to retrieve and save what you can, and after rinsing off any debris with cold water, place the fragments in a container with milk.
Re-insert a knocked-out tooth. You can often save a knocked-out tooth by putting it back in its socket as soon as possible. After cleaning off any debris, hold the tooth by its crown (never the root) and place it back in the empty socket. Don't fret over getting it in perfectly—your dentist will assist its placement later. Place a piece of clean cloth or cotton over the tooth and have the injured person bite down gently but firmly to hold it in place.
See the dentist ASAP. You should immediately see a dentist if any tooth structure has been damaged, or if a tooth is loose or has been moved out of place. If you're not sure, call your dentist to see if you should come on in or if you can wait. If a dentist is not available, go immediately to an emergency room or clinic. With many dental injuries, the longer you wait, the more likely the teeth involved won't survive long-term.
A dental injury could happen in a flash, with consequences that last a lifetime. But if, like Carly Pearce, you take prompt action and obtain necessary dental care, you could save an injured tooth—and the smile that goes with it.
Osteoporosis is a serious bone weakening disease in older adults that can turn a minor fall into a major bone fracture. But the condition could also impact dental treatment—triggered ironically by the drugs used to treat osteoporosis rather than the disease itself.
From the Latin for “porous bone,” osteoporosis causes bone to gradually lose mineral structure. Over time the naturally-occurring spaces between mineralized portions of the bone enlarge, leaving it weaker as a result.
Although there's no definitive cure for osteoporosis, a number of drugs developed over the last couple of decades can inhibit its progress. Most fall into two major categories, bisphosphonates and RANKL inhibitors.
These drugs work by inhibiting the normal growth cycle of bone. Living bone constantly changes as cells called osteoblasts produce new bone. A different type, osteoclasts, clear away older bone to make room for these newer cells. The drugs selectively destroy osteoclasts so that the older bone, which would have been removed by them, remains for a longer period of time.
Retaining older cells longer initially slows the disease process. But there is a downside: in time, this older bone kept in place continues to weaken and lose vitality. In rare instances it may eventually become detached from its blood supply and die, resulting in what is known as osteonecrosis.
Osteonecrosis mostly affects two particular bones in the body: the femur (the long bone in the upper leg) and the jawbone. In regard to the latter, even the stress of chewing could cause osteonecrosis in someone being treated for osteoporosis. It can also occur after tooth extractions or similar invasive procedures.
If you're taking a bisphosphonate or RANKL inhibitor, you'll want to inform your dentist so that the necessary precautions can be taken before undergoing dental work more invasive than routine cleanings or getting a filling or crown. If you need major dental work, your dentist or you will also need to speak with your physician about stopping the drug for a few months before and after a dental procedure to minimize the risk of osteonecrosis.
Fortunately, the risk for dental problems while undergoing treatment for osteoporosis is fairly low. Still, you'll want to be as prepared as possible so that the management of your osteoporosis doesn't harm your dental health.
If you would like more information on osteoporosis 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 “Osteoporosis Drugs & Dental Treatment.”
In recent years, dental implants have helped traditional bridgework take a giant leap forward. A few strategically placed implants can provide the highest support and stability we can currently achieve for this well-known dental restoration.
Implants derive this stability from the bone in which they're imbedded. Once surgically installed, the bone around a metal implant begins to grow and adhere to its titanium surface. Over time, this creates a strong anchor that firmly holds the implant in place.
But the implants' stability can be threatened if the gums around them become diseased. Gum disease, a bacterial infection caused mainly by dental plaque, can advance silently below the gum surface until it ultimately infects the bone. This can cause significant bone loss around an implant, which can weaken it to the point of failure.
To avoid this scenario, it's important to prevent gum disease by flossing daily to remove accumulated dental plaque between the implant-supported bridge and the gums, particularly around the implants. This kind of flossing around bridgework is more difficult than flossing between teeth, but it can be done with the help of a device called a floss threader.
A floss threader is a small plastic hand tool with a loop on one end and a stiffened edge on the other (similar to a sewing needle). You begin by threading about 18" of dental floss through the loop, and then work the other end of the threader between the bridge and gums to the other side.
With the floss threaded between the bridge and gums, you can now remove it from the threader, grasp each end, and floss around the sides of each implant you can reach. You'll then need to repeat the process by removing the floss, rethreading it in the threader and inserting it into the next section between implants, continuing to floss until you've accessed each side of each implant.
You can also use pre-packaged floss thread sections with a stiffened end to facilitate threading. But whichever product you use, it's important to perform this task each day to prevent a gum infection that could rob you of your implant-supported bridge.
If you would like more information on oral hygiene practices with dental work, 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 “Oral Hygiene for Fixed Bridgework.”
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