Tag Archives: Tooth decay
More than 10 million Americans are living with an eating disorder, yet less than half will ever seek treatment for it, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. If you think that could never be you or someone close to you, consider this:
- A 2007 study surveyed 9,282 Americans about an array of mental health conditions, including eating disorders. About 2 percent of the men and 3.5 percent of the women met the criteria for a binge eating disorder at some point in their lives, which makes it three times more common than anorexia and bulimia combined and more widespread than breast cancer or HIV.
- A 2016 study found that up 40 percent of overweight girls and 37 percent of overweight boys are teased about their weight by peers or family members, and that teasing predicts weight gain, binge eating, and extreme weight control measures.
I’m addressing this subject here, first, because we clearly need to be doing more as a society to resolve this crisis. If you aren’t directly affected, someone close to you almost certainly is. Second, and not insignificantly, an eating disorder can be disastrous to your oral health.
In fact, changes in the mouth are often the first physical signs of an eating disorder. So, hygienists, dentists, and periodontists are, in many cases, the first line of protection.
The effects are swift and severe
Denial is to an eating disorder what a lit match is to a parched forest in the high heat of summer. Almost immediately, it takes over and blunts judgement. From the inside, it may appear as though you’re in full control of your body. In truth, dental issues can begin cropping up from just six months of consistent eating disorder behavior, such as restricting calories and purging.
Here’s a look at some of the most common ways an eating disorder can ravage your mouth:
- Consuming too little food usually leads to a nutrient deficiency, which can impact your oral health in several negative ways. A lack of calcium, for one, promotes tooth decay and gum disease. Not enough iron can lead to sores on the inside of your mouth. And too little vitamin B3 (niacin) can contribute to persistent bad breath and the growth of canker sores. Your gums can also become red and swollen, which is usually a sign of gingivitis, the earliest phase of gum disease.
- When we vomit, strong stomach acid washes over our teeth. When it happens frequently over a sustained period, eventually the enamel (the tooth’s protective outer layer) will erode and your teeth will become brittle, translucent, and weak. The edges of your teeth will then begin to break off easily. Trying to compensate by vigorously brushing and rinsing after vomiting can actually make those problems even worse.
- Constant purging can lead to redness, scratches, and cuts inside your mouth, especially what’s referred to as the soft palate, or the upper surface. A frequent binge-and-purge cycle can also enlarge the salivary glands to the extent that they become painful and visible. It’s also common to develop degenerative arthritis within the temporomandibular joint in the jaw, which is the spot where the jaw hinges to the skull.
Recovery is possible
Those effects, among others, can be lingering and even permanent. The key to ensuring as much of a complete recovery as possible is early detection. Reading this blog post counts in that regard, because recognition begins with awareness, which starts with arming yourself with the right information and seeking appropriate guidance from your dentist or periodontist.
It’s important to understand that frequent and honest communication with your dentist or periodontist is critical to the recovery process. Anything said between the patient and doctor is confidential, so the exam room can be treated as a safe place to disclose past and ongoing struggles with an eating disorder. Anything said during those conversations will only be used to help you.
The frequency is just as important as the openness of those talks because, in spite of the best intentions, binging and purging is a difficult cycle to break, which makes relapse a likely possibility. So the closer you remain in communication with your dentist or periodontist, the better positioned they’ll be to adapt their treatment plan accordingly.
In between those appointments, should you purge again, rinse with water or a sugar-free mouthwash immediately after. But don’t brush for at least an hour. Doing it any earlier could put you at risk for scrubbing any residual stomach acid even deeper into the enamel.
The first step
Above all, remember that you’re not alone and recovery is possible. As isolated and hopeless as you, or someone you know, may feel, all it takes to begin shifting course is to trust in just one person. If I can be that person, email me directly at email@example.com to schedule an appointment.
Let’s look at some unexpected ways your’re ruining your teeth. You have been told to steer clear of sugar. Brush and floss regularly. And see your dentist every six months. That much, at least, we all know about preventing tooth decay. It was hammered into our heads from the time we could start holding a toothbrush on our own. But there are a lot of other threats to our teeth out there, and many of them are lurking in places we’d never think to look. This is a rundown of the 10 that tend to feature most prominently in our lives.
Ways You’re Ruining Your Teeth #1: Sucking on throat lozenges
We’re entering the thick of cold and flu season, which means that most of us are walking around with a handful of throat lozenges within easy reach. As soon as a scratchy, sore throat sets in, they’re our first line of defense. And though they’re considered medicinal, some are closer to candy because they’re loaded with sugar. So for all the short-term relief they provide, lozenges may be doing more harm than good. Before you buy your next batch, check the list of ingredients and make sure that sugar’s near the bottom.
Ways You’re Ruining Your Teeth #2: Prying stuff open with your teeth
We’ve all done it. The scissors are all the way across the kitchen and your mouth’s right here, so why not pry open that bag of chips with your teeth? Because our teeth are a lot more fragile than they seem, and the tips are the thinnest and weakest part. But even the back teeth are susceptible. You could damage a filling or a crown. Slight as they may seem, chips, cracks, and fractures create openings for tooth decay. And in serious cases, a broken tooth may need to be removed and replaced with a dental implant. Let’s lump chewing fingernails and ice in here, too. Basically, anything that isn’t food is a hazard to your teeth.
Ways You’re Ruining Your Teeth #3: Over-bleaching you teeth
The American Dental Association endorses bleaching, either in the dentist’s office or at home, as a safe and effective means to whiten your teeth. But the long-term effects of bleaching have yet to be fully understood. Doing it too often is believed to cause tooth pitting and nerve damage, but more research is needed to confirm that. To be on the safe side, stick to the instructions. Some tooth sensitivity and gum tissue irritation afterward is normal. But if they don’t subside, it’s time to stop and see your dentist or a periodontist.
Ways You’re Ruining Your Teeth #4: Drinking white wine
If you’ve ever opted for a glass of chardonnay over pinot noir because you were concerned about the red wine’s potential to stain your teeth—and it will—you weren’t doing yourself much of a favor, after all. The acid in white wine eats away at tooth enamel, which leaves your teeth more vulnerable to staining by everything else you eat and drink. But it’s not all bad news. You can flush much of that acidity by simply swishing some water after you finish your chardonnay (like you use a mouthwash). Or, you can offset it by munching on some cheese. It’s rich in protein, calcium, and phosphorous, all of which can buffer the acid.
Ways You’re Ruining Your Teeth 5: Brushing right after eating or drinking
To clarify, avoid brushing right after you eat or drink something acidic. I know; it seems counterintuitive. If the acid eats up your enamel, then why wouldn’t you want to clean your teeth right away? Because that acid is softening the enamel. And adding an abrasive toothbrush to the fold is a recipe for deeper damage. Instead, wait about a half-hour before brushing. That should be ample time for the saliva in your mouth to naturally wash away the acid and any morsels that may have stuck behind.
Ways You’re Ruining Your Teeth #6: Drinking juice (Yup, even cold-pressed)
This one’s likely going to be a sucker punch to the gut for everyone who thought they were doing themselves a favor by drinking a freshly cold-pressed juice for an afternoon pick-me-up instead of another cup of coffee. But consider how much fruit and veggies were used to make that one bottle of juice. And now consider the high sugar content of each. That’s how juice often ends up with even more sugar than soda. There is a way around that, however. It’s not foolproof, but using a straw will keep most of the juice away from the surfaces of your teeth.
Ways You’re Ruining Your Teeth #7: Eating dried fruit
You probably already noticed that dried fruit has a way of relentlessly sticking to your teeth. That’s cause for concern even beyond the inevitable embarrassment of having a coworker point out an overlooked morsel hours after lunch. Dried fruit is full of non-cellulose fiber, which traps sugar on and around teeth the same way gummy candies (and vitamins) do. Here, contrary to my advice with acidic food and drinks, you’ll want to brush and floss right away.
Ways You’re Ruining Your Teeth #8: Grinding or clenching your teeth
Plot twist: The enemy’s in the house. I’m kidding. Kind of. When it comes to tooth decay, sometimes we’re our own worst enemies. We’re living in a culture where the pace can feel, at times, relentless, and the harder we try to keep up, the more stressed we become. Grinding or clenching our teeth in our sleep are a couple of the ways we can express that stress. You may not even realize you’re doing it. But if you’re waking up with a sore face or jaw, talk to your dentist or a periodontist. Both can really wear down enamel and, in time, lead to teeth chipping or cracking.
Ways You’re Ruining Your Teeth #9: Brushing and flossing too aggressively
Yes, there is such a thing. If you prefer a stiff brush because you believe it’s all that more effective at cleaning your teeth, think again. You may be wearing down your enamel and even spurring some gum recession. Likewise, constantly flossing to the point that your gums start bleeding is too aggressive. Stop at the gum line and don’t be so forceful with your pulls. While you’re at it, use a soft-bristled toothbrush, hold it at a 45-degree angle and move it in small strokes.
Ways You’re Ruining Your Teeth #10: Ignoring small dental problems
Every one of us could stand to be a little more vigilant about our oral health. We may brush and floss regularly, but then we’ll use that as an excuse to skip our next dentist appointment. Our ability to adapt is incredible. That’s how it becomes so easy to live with a sensitive tooth or explain away a swollen gum. The problem is, as easily as issues like those are rectified at their onset, they become much more difficult to treat the longer they go unchecked. Check out one of our other posts on how periodontal disease develops for added incentive.
Tooth decay may sound like a foreign concept—It’ll never happen to me—until, one day, you find yourself seated in one of my exam rooms and we’re discussing extraction and dental implants. It can feel like it happened just that fast. And now that you know the threats are all around us, it’s easy to see how. So if you’re experiencing anything abnormal, or it’s been a while since your last dental exam, schedule an appointment with me. There’s never going to be a better time to make your dental health a priority than this very moment.