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.”
Modern dentistry offers several great ways to permanently replace missing teeth, including high-tech dental implants and traditional fixed bridgework. But sometimes, for one reason or another, it isn’t possible to have these treatments done right away. If you need an aesthetic way to temporarily replace missing teeth, a flexible partial denture could be the answer you’re looking for.
Certain kinds of removable partial dentures (RPDs) can be used as permanent tooth replacement systems, especially for people who aren’t candidates for dental implants or fixed bridges. But in the past, if you needed a temporary tooth replacement, one of the few alternatives was the type of rigid RPD often called a “flipper.” This consists of a firm, relatively thick acrylic base that supports one or more lifelike replacement teeth. It attaches to the “necks” of existing natural teeth via metal clasps, which gives it stability and strength.
However, the same rigidity and thickness that gives these rigid RPDs their durability can make them uncomfortable to wear, while the acrylic material they are made of is capable of staining or breaking. Over time, the RPDs are prone to coming loose — and they are also easy to flip in and out with the tongue, which gives them their nickname.
Flexible partial dentures, by contrast, are made of pliable polyamides (nylon-like plastics) that are thin, light and resistant to breakage. Instead of using metal wires to attach to the teeth, flexible RPDs are held securely in place by thin projections of their gum-colored bases, which fit tightly into the natural contours of the gumline. Their elasticity and light weight can make them more comfortable to wear. Plus, besides offering aesthetic replacements for missing teeth, their natural-looking bases can cover areas where gums have receded — making existing teeth look better as well.
All RPDs must be removed regularly for thorough cleaning — but it’s especially important for flexible RPD wearers to practice excellent oral hygiene. That’s because the projections that hold them in place can also trap food particles and bacteria, which can cause decay. And, like most dentures, RPDs should never be worn overnight. Yet with proper care, flexible RPDs offer an inexpensive and aesthetic way to temporarily replace missing teeth.
Everyone has to face the music at some time — even John Lydon, former lead singer of The Sex Pistols, arguably England’s best known punk rock band. The 59-year old musician was once better known by his stage name, Johnny Rotten — a brash reference to the visibly degraded state of his teeth. But in the decades since his band broke up, Lydon’s lifelong deficiency in dental hygiene had begun to cause him serious problems.
In recent years, Lydon has had several dental surgeries — including one to resolve two serious abscesses in his mouth, which left him with stitches in his gums and a temporary speech impediment. Photos show that he also had missing teeth, which, sources say, he opted to replace with dental implants.
For Lydon (and many others in the same situation) that’s likely to be an excellent choice. Dental implants are the gold standard for tooth replacement today, for some very good reasons. The most natural-looking of all tooth replacements, implants also have a higher success rate than any other method: over 95 percent. They can be used to replace one tooth, several teeth, or an entire arch (top or bottom row) of teeth. And with only routine care, they can last for the rest of your life.
Like natural teeth, dental implants get support from the bone in your jaw. The implant itself — a screw-like titanium post — is inserted into the jaw in a minor surgical operation. The lifelike, visible part of the tooth — the crown — is attached to the implant by a sturdy connector called an abutment. In time, the titanium metal of the implant actually becomes fused with the living bone tissue. This not only provides a solid anchorage for the prosthetic, but it also prevents bone loss at the site of the missing tooth — which is something neither bridgework nor dentures can do.
It’s true that implants may have a higher initial cost than other tooth replacement methods; in the long run, however, they may prove more economical. Over time, the cost of repeated dental treatments and periodic replacement of shorter-lived tooth restorations (not to mention lost time and discomfort) can easily exceed the expense of implants.
That’s a lesson John Lydon has learned. “A lot of ill health came from neglecting my teeth,” he told a newspaper reporter. “I felt sick all the time, and I decided to do something about it… I’ve had all kinds of abscesses, jaw surgery. It costs money and is very painful. So Johnny says: ‘Get your brush!’”
We couldn’t agree more. But if brushing isn’t enough, it may be time to consider dental implants. If you would like more information about dental implants, please call our office to schedule a consultation. You can read more in the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Dental Implants” and “Save a Tooth or Get an Implant?”
Teeth-replacing dental implants not only look life-like, they’re made to last. For one thing, the metals and dental materials used in them are impervious to bacterial infection.
But that doesn’t mean implants are impervious to failure. Implants depend on the bone and other natural mouth structures for support. If the bone becomes weakened due to disease, the implant could become unstable and ultimately fail.
Peri-implantitis, the condition that can lead to this kind of failure, is a major concern for implant longevity. It’s a type of periodontal (gum) disease triggered by plaque, a thin film of food particles that can build up quickly in the absence of adequate brushing and flossing. The gum tissues around the implant become infected and inflamed.
If the infection isn’t properly treated with renewed oral hygiene and clinical plaque removal, it could spread below the gum line and begin to damage the underlying gum tissues and bone. This could destroy the all-important connection between the titanium implant post and the bone. The implant could eventually loosen and become completely detached from the bone.
The key is early intervention before the bone becomes damaged. Besides plaque removal we may also need to apply antibiotics in some form to control the growth of disease-causing bacteria. If the disease has fairly advanced we may also need to consider surgical repair to strengthen the attachment between implant and bone.
You can help to avoid peri-implantitis altogether by practicing consistent daily brushing and flossing around all your teeth including the implant, and seeing your dentist at least twice a year for cleanings and checkups. And by all means see your dentist if you notice any signs of gum swelling, redness or bleeding. Staying on top of your gum health will help not only the natural tissues and remaining teeth in your mouth, it will help preserve your implants for decades to come.
A recent episode of “America’s Got Talent” featured an engaging 93-year-old strongman called The Mighty Atom Jr. The mature muscleman’s stunt: moving a full-sized car (laden with his octogenarian “kid brother,” his brother’s wife, plus Atom’s “lady friend”) using just his teeth. Grinning for host Howie Mandel, Atom proudly told the TV audience that his teeth were all his own; then he grasped a leather strap in his mouth, and successfully pulled the car from a standstill.
We’re pleased to see that the Atom has kept his natural teeth in good shape: He must have found time for brushing and flossing in between stunts. Needless to say, his “talent” isn’t one we’d recommend trying at home. But aside from pulling vehicles, teeth can also be chipped or fractured by more mundane (yet still risky) activities — playing sports, nibbling on pencils, or biting too hard on ice. What can you do if that happens to your teeth?
Fortunately, we have a number of ways to repair cracked or chipped teeth. One of the easiest and fastest is cosmetic bonding with tooth-colored resins. Bonding can be used to fill in small chips, cracks and discolorations in the teeth. The bonding material is a high-tech mixture of plastic and glass components that’s extremely lifelike, and can last for several years. Plus, it’s a procedure that can be done right in the office, with minimal preparation or discomfort. However, it may not be suitable for larger chips, and it isn’t the longest-lasting type of restoration.
When more of the tooth structure is missing, a crown (or cap) might be needed to restore the tooth’s appearance and function. This involves creating a replacement for the entire visible part of the tooth in a dental lab — or in some cases, right in the office. It typically involves making a model of the damaged tooth and its neighbors, then fabricating a replica, which will fit perfectly into the bite. Finally, the replacement crown is permanently cemented to the damaged tooth. A crown replacement can last for many years if the tooth’s roots are in good shape. But what if the roots have been dislodged?
In some cases it’s possible to re-implant a tooth that has been knocked out — especially if it has been carefully preserved, and receives immediate professional attention. But if a tooth can’t be saved (due to a deeply fractured root, for example) a dental implant offers today’s best option for tooth replacement. This procedure has a success rate of over 95 percent, and gives you a natural looking replacement tooth that can last for the rest of your life.
So what have we learned? If you take care of your teeth, like strongman Atom, they can last a long time — but if you need to move your car, go get the keys.
If you would like more information about tooth restoration, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can learn more by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Crowns & Bridgework.”
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