Eating Disorders & Oral Health

This section is dedicated to the latest information on oral health topics, culled from authoritative sources such as the American Dental Association.

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Heart Disease

Poor dental hygiene can cause a host of problems outside your mouth-including your heart. Medical research has uncovered a definitive link between heart disease and certain kinds of oral infections such as periodontal disease. Some have even suggested that gum disease may be as dangerous as or more dangerous than other factors such as tobacco use. A condition called chronic periodontitis, or persistent gum disease, has been linked to cardiovascular problems by medical researchers.

In short, infections and harmful bacteria in your mouth can spread through the bloodstream to your liver, which produces harmful proteins that can lead to systemic cardiac problems. That's why it is critical to practice good oral hygiene to keep infections at bay-this includes a daily regimen of brushing, flossing and rinsing.


Antibiotic Prophylaxis

In some cases, patients with compromised immune systems or who fear an infection from a dental procedure may take antibiotics before visiting the dentist.

It is possible for bacteria from your mouth to enter your bloodstream during a dental procedure in which tissues are cut or bleeding occurs. A healthy immune system will normally fight such bacteria before they result in an infection. However, certain cardiovascular conditions in patients with weakened hearts could be at risk for an infection or heart muscle inflammation (bacterial endocarditis) resulting from a dental procedure.

Patients with heart conditions (including weakened heart valves) are strongly advised to inform our office before undergoing any dental procedure. The proper antibiotic will prevent any unnecessary complications.


Dentistry Health Care That Works: Tobacco

The American Dental Association has long been a leader in the battle against tobacco-related disease, working to educate the public about the dangers inherent in tobacco use and encouraging dentists to help their patients break the cycle of addiction. The Association has continually strengthened and updated its tobacco policies as new scientific information has become available.

Smoking and Implants

Recent studies have shown that there is a direct link between oral tissue and bones loss and smoking. Tooth loss and edentulism are more common in smokers than in non-smokers. In addition, people who smoke are more likely to develop severe periodontal disease.

The formation of deep mucosal pockets with inflammation of the peri-implant mucosa around dental implants is called peri-implantitis. Smokers treated with dental implants have a greater risk of developing peri-implantitis. This condition can lead to increased resorption of peri-implant bone. If left untreated, peri-implantitis can lead to implant failure. In a recent international study, smokers showed a higher score in bleeding index with greater peri-implant pocket depth and radiographically discernible bone resorption around the implant, particularly in the maxilla.

Many studies have shown that smoking can lead to higher rates of dental implant failure. In general, smoking cessation usually leads to improved periodontal health and a patient’s chance for successful implant acceptance.


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Vomiting.Millions of people in the United States, particularly teenage girls and young women, suffer from health-threatening eating disorders, and dentists are often the first to spot the signs. Why? The repeated, self-induced vomiting that characterizes bulimia nervosa has a pronounced effect on teeth. Anorexia nervosa (self-starvation) can also have some noticeable effects on oral health.

More than 90% of those with bulimia experience tooth erosion. This is caused by acid from the stomach, which can dissolve the enamel when it comes in contact with teeth during vomiting. Teeth that have lost enamel can appear worn, chip easily, and become sensitive to hot and/or cold. Of course, acid erosion can also affect people who drink a lot of soda, sports drinks and energy drinks — even the diet varieties. But acid erosion in bulimics has a particular pattern: It is evident on the upper front teeth, particularly on the tongue side and biting edges. The bottom teeth, on the other hand, tend to be protected by the tongue when a person throws up.

Once enamel is lost, it can't grow back. But the damage can be repaired with various restorative techniques including veneers and/or crowns. The best treatment will be determined by how extensive the damage is, which in turn depends on how frequently the person has engaged in binge-purge behavior.

To protect teeth in the short term, it is important not to brush them immediately after vomiting as this can scrape off more of the softened enamel. It is better to rinse with water to which a little baking soda has been added, which neutralizes the acid. Even a plain water rinse is helpful. Sometimes a sodium fluoride mouthrinse is recommended to strengthen the enamel and reduce its loss.

Erosion is not the only sign of an eating disorder that a dentist or hygienist may notice. In severe cases the salivary glands can become enlarged, causing the sides of the face under the ears to look puffy. Also, the throat, back of the tongue and roof of the mouth can appear reddened or otherwise traumatized from the use of fingers or other objects to induce gagging. Soft tissues of the mouth can also be damaged by acid.

Only about 20% of anorexics experience tooth erosion, but there are other signs that may become apparent in the dental office. Nutrition and hygiene suffer in general, which in turn can mean more tooth decay and gum disease. There is also considerable overlap between anorexia and bulimia.

If you are struggling with an eating disorder or believe that a loved one is, please let your healthcare professionals know. We will make sure you get the help you need for healthy teeth and a healthy life. You can also visit the National Eating Disorders Association for some helpful information.

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Bulimia Anorexia - Dear Doctor Magazine

Bulimia, Anorexia & Oral Health Eating disorders, particularly bulimia nervosa, can leave telltale signs on the teeth that dentists and hygienists are trained to spot. The frequency with which a person engages in binge-purge behavior will determine how seriously the teeth are affected... Read Article