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.”
Fans of the primetime TV show The Middle were delighted to see that high school senior Sue, played by Eden Sher, finally got her braces off at the start of Season 6. But since this popular sitcom wouldn’t be complete without some slapstick comedy, this happy event is not without its trials and tribulations: The episode ends with Sue’s whole family diving into a dumpster in search of the teen’s lost retainer. Sue finds it in the garbage and immediately pops it in her mouth. But wait — it doesn’t fit, it’s not even hers!
If you think this scenario is far-fetched, guess again. OK, maybe the part about Sue not washing the retainer upon reclaiming it was just a gag (literally and figuratively), but lost retainers are all too common. Unfortunately, they’re also expensive to replace — so they need to be handled with care. What’s the best way to do that? Retainers should be brushed daily with a soft toothbrush and liquid soap (dish soap works well), and then placed immediately back in your mouth or into the case that came with the retainer. When you are eating a meal at a restaurant, do not wrap your retainer in a napkin and leave it on the table — this is a great way to lose it! Instead, take the case with you, and keep the retainer in it while you’re eating. When you get home, brush your teeth and then put the retainer back in your mouth.
If you do lose your retainer though, let us know right away. Retention is the last step of your orthodontic treatment, and it’s extremely important. You’ve worked hard to get a beautiful smile, and no one wants to see that effort wasted. Yet if you neglect to wear your retainer as instructed, your teeth are likely to shift out of position. Why does this happen?
As you’ve seen firsthand, teeth aren’t rigidly fixed in the jaw — they can be moved in response to light and continuous force. That’s what orthodontic appliances do: apply the right amount of force in a carefully controlled manner. But there are other forces at work on your teeth that can move them in less predictable ways. For example, normal biting and chewing can, over time, cause your teeth to shift position. To get teeth to stay where they’ve been moved orthodontically, new bone needs to form around them and anchor them where they are. That will happen over time, but only if they are held in place with a retainer. That’s why it is so important to wear yours as directed — and notify us immediately if it gets lost.
And if ever you do have to dig your retainer out of a dumpster… be sure to wash it before putting in in your mouth!
If you would like more information on retainers, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can learn more in the Dear Doctor magazine articles “The Importance of Orthodontic Retainers” and “Why Orthodontic Retainers?”
Dental implants are by far the best way to replace missing teeth. But they do more than improve your smile: they can restore your ability to eat, chew and talk properly, especially if the teeth replaced are in the back of your mouth. What’s more, they can improve the entire look of your face by restoring facial height and cheek support lost because of the missing teeth.
There is, however, one obstacle to overcome before receiving dental implants — a lack of sufficient bone at the implant site. Bone loss usually occurs when teeth have been missing for some time. This is because when we chew the forces generated by the teeth stimulate continual bone growth to make up for older bone that has dissolved (resorbed). This stimulation doesn’t occur after teeth are lost, which slows the rate of bone growth. Over time the amount of healthy bone diminishes.
Without enough bone for support, implants can’t be placed properly. Fortunately, some of the bone can be regenerated through techniques that place bone grafting material at the site to stimulate and serve as a scaffold for new bone.Â The new bone will eventually replace the graft.
For missing upper back teeth with bone loss, we can take advantage of facial anatomy to grow the bone needed for implants. This area of the face is where the maxillary sinuses, air spaces lined with a tissue membrane, are located on either side just above the upper jaw. After determining their exact size and location through detailed x-ray imaging, we can surgically access the area inside the mouth just above the missing teeth.
The sinus cavity is an area where bone growth can occur by placing a bone graft between the floor of the sinus and the sinus membrane. Sometimes bone growth enhancers are used to stimulate and speed up regeneration. The procedure can usually be performed with local anesthesia (much like a routine tooth filling), with only mild discomfort afterward for a few days managed by an anti-inflammatory drug like ibuprofen and a decongestant for sinus swelling.
After six to seven months, we re-evaluate the area to see if sufficient bone has returned for implant surgery. If so, you will be well on your way to achieving a new look and better function through dental implants.
If you would like more information on building new bone through sinus surgery, 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 “Sinus Surgery.”