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.”
Fans everywhere were recently saddened by the news of musical legend Eddie Van Halen's death. Co-founder and lead guitarist for the iconic rock group Van Halen, the 65-year-old superstar passed away from oral cancer.
Van Halen's rise to worldwide fame began in the 1970s with his unique guitar style and energetic performances, but behind the scenes, he struggled with his health. In 2000, he was successfully treated for tongue cancer. He remained cancer-free until 2018 when he was diagnosed with throat cancer to which he succumbed this past October.
Van Halen claimed the metal guitar picks he habitually held in his mouth caused his tongue cancer. It's more likely, though, that his heavy cigarette smoking and alcohol use had more to do with his cancers.
According to the American Cancer Society, most oral cancer patients are smokers and, as in Van Halen's case, are more likely to beat one form of oral cancer only to have another form arise in another part of the mouth. Add in heavy alcohol consumption, and the combined habits can increase the risk of oral cancer a hundredfold.
But there are ways to reduce that risk by making some important lifestyle changes. Here's how:
Quit tobacco. Giving up tobacco, whether smoked or smokeless, vastly lowers your oral cancer risk. It's not easy to kick the habit solo, but a medically supervised cessation program or support group can help.
Limit alcohol. If you drink heavily, consider giving up alcohol or limiting yourself to just one or two drinks a day. As with tobacco, it can be difficult doing it alone, so speak with a health professional for assistance.
Eat healthy. You can reduce your cancer risk by avoiding processed foods with nitrites or other known carcinogens. Instead, eat fresh fruits and vegetables with antioxidants that fight cancer. A healthy diet also boosts your overall dental and bodily health.
Practice hygiene. Keeping teeth and gums healthy also lowers oral cancer risk. Brush and floss daily to remove dental plaque, the bacterial film on teeth most responsible for dental disease. You should also visit us every six months for more thorough dental cleanings and checkups.
One last thing: Because oral cancer is often diagnosed in its advanced stages, be sure you see us if you notice any persistent sores or other abnormalities on your tongue or the inside of your mouth. An earlier diagnosis of oral cancer can vastly improve the long-term prognosis.
Although not as prevalent as other forms of cancer, oral cancer is among the deadliest with only a 60% five-year survival rate. Making these changes toward a healthier lifestyle can help you avoid this serious disease.
If you would like more information about preventing oral cancer, please contact us or schedule a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine articles “How a Routine Dental Visit Saved My Life” and “Strategies to Stop Smoking.”
By the time your child reaches their first birthday, they may have only a handful of primary teeth. So, should you schedule their first dental visit or wait until they're older?
Absolutely schedule it—a dental visit at age one is one of the most important steps you can take to protect and promote your child's dental health. Starting routine dental care at this early stage can help ensure they enjoy healthy teeth and gums now and in the future. Here's why.
Keeps you a step ahead of tooth decay. Children can experience a rapidly advancing form of tooth decay called early childhood caries (ECC). If not prevented—or treated promptly should it occur—ECC can quickly destroy primary teeth. If they're lost prematurely, future permanent teeth may not erupt properly. Regular dental visits can help prevent or diagnose decay before it causes major damage.
Intercepts problems before they grow. Dental problems, especially bite-related, usually appear in late childhood or early adolescence. But they can start much earlier with signs only a dentist might be able to detect. Early treatments can correct or minimize a developing bite problem, saving you and your child more extensive treatment later.
Reduces your child's dental visit anxiety. The dental office can be an unfamiliar environment for a child that can trigger anxiety. But children who start dental visits sooner rather than later are more apt to adapt and view visiting the dentist as a routine part of life. You may also want to consider a pediatric dentist who not only specializes in children's dental care and development, but may also promote a “kid-friendly” treatment environment.
Promotes the importance of dental care. Beginning regular dental visits shines the spotlight on your child's dental needs and development. As a caregiver, you can gain important insight and support from your dentist toward ensuring your child's teeth stay healthy and develop normally. As a side benefit, increased attention on your child's dental care may increase the same for your entire family.
The first years of a child's life sets the foundation of their dental health for the rest of their lives. You can help make sure that foundation is as sound as possible by beginning early dental visits.
If you would like more information on effective dental care for children, 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 “Age One Dental Visit.”
If your child has seen the dentist regularly, and brushed and flossed daily, there's a good chance they've avoided advanced tooth decay. But another problem might already be growing right under your nose—a poor dental bite (malocclusion).
A dental bite refers to the way the upper and lower teeth fit together. In a normal bite the teeth are in straight alignment, and the upper teeth slightly extend in front of and over the lower when the jaws are shut. But permanent teeth erupting out of position or a jaw developing abnormally can set the stage for a malocclusion.
Although the full effects of a malocclusion may not manifest until later, there may be signs of its development as early as age 6. If so, it may be possible to identify a budding bite problem and “intercept” it before it goes too far, correcting it or reducing its severity.
Here are 6 signs your school-age child could be developing a malocclusion.
Excessive spacing. If the spacing between teeth seems too wide, it could mean the size of your child's teeth are out of proportion with their jaw.
Underbite. Rather than the normal upper front teeth covering the lower, the lower teeth extend out and over the upper teeth.
Open bite. There's a space or gap between the upper and lower teeth even when the jaws are shut.
Crowding. Due to a lack of space on the jaw, incoming teeth don't have enough room to erupt and may come in misaligned or “crooked.”
Crossbites. Some of the lower teeth, either in front or back of the jaw, overlap the upper teeth, while the rest of the upper teeth overlap normally.
Protrusion or retrusion. This occurs if the upper front teeth or jaw appear too far forward (protrusion) or the lower teeth or jaw are positioned too far back (retrusion).
Besides watching out for the preceding signs yourself, it's also a good idea to have your child undergo a comprehensive bite evaluation with an orthodontist around age 6. If that does reveal something amiss with their bite, intervention now could correct or lessen the problem and future treatment efforts later.
If you suffer frequent sinus infections, you might want to see a dentist. No, really—your recurring sinusitis might stem from a decayed tooth.
Tooth decay can start as a cavity, but left untreated can advance within the tooth and infect the pulp and root canals. If it reaches the end of the root, it can cause the root tip and surrounding bone to break down.
A severe toothache is often a good indicator that you have advanced tooth decay, which can usually be stopped with a root canal treatment. But a decayed tooth doesn't always produce pain or other symptoms—you could have a “silent” infection that's less likely to be detected.
A symptomless, and thus untreated, infection in an upper back tooth could eventually impact the maxillary sinus, a hollow air-filled space located just above your back jaw. This is especially true for people whose tooth roots extend close to or even poke through the sinus floor.
That “silent” infection in your tooth, could therefore become a “loud” one in the sinuses causing chronic post-nasal drip, congestion and, of course, pain. Fortunately, a physician or an ear, nose and throat (ENT) specialist might suspect a dental origin for a case of recurring sinusitis, a condition known as maxillary sinusitis of endodontic origin (MSEO).
Antibiotic treatment can clear up sinusitis symptoms short-term. It's unlikely, though, it will do the same for a dental infection, which may continue to trigger subsequent rounds of sinusitis. The best approach is for a dentist, particularly a specialist in interior tooth disease called an endodontist, to investigate and, if a decayed tooth is found, treat the source of the infection.
As mentioned earlier, the solution is usually a root canal treatment. During this procedure, the dentist completely removes all infected tissue within the pulp and root canals, and then fills the empty spaces to prevent future infection. In one study, root canal therapy had a positive effect on alleviating sinusitis in about half of patients who were diagnosed with a decayed tooth.
If your sinusitis keeps coming back, speak with your doctor about the possibility of a dental cause. You may find treating a subsequently diagnosed decayed tooth could alleviate your sinus problem.
If you would like more information on how your dental health could affect the rest of your body, 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 “Sinusitis and Tooth Infections.”
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