Say “bacteria,” especially in the same sentence with “disease” or “infection,” and you may trigger an immediate stampede for the hand sanitizer. The last thing most people want is to come in contact with these “menacing” microorganisms.
If that describes you, however, you’re too late. If you’re of adult age, there are already 100 trillion of these single-celled organisms in and on your body, outnumbering your own cells 10 to 1. But don’t panic: Of these 10,000-plus species only a handful can cause you harm—most are either harmless or beneficial, including in your mouth.
Thanks to recent research, we know quite a bit about the different kinds of bacteria in the mouth and what they’re doing. We’ve also learned that the mouth’s microbiome (the interactive environment of microscopic organisms in a particular location) develops over time, especially during our formative years. New mothers, for example, pass on hundreds of beneficial species of bacteria to their babies via their breast milk.
As our exposure to different bacteria grows, our immune system is also developing—not only fighting bacteria that pose a threat, but also learning to recognize benevolent species. All these factors over time result in a sophisticated, interrelated bacterial environment unique to every individual.
Of course, it isn’t all sweetness and light in this microscopic world. The few harmful oral bacteria, especially those that trigger tooth decay or periodontal (gum) disease, can cause enormous, irreparable damage to the teeth and gums. It’s our goal as dentists to treat these diseases and, when necessary, fight against harmful microorganisms with antibacterial agents and antibiotics.
But our growing knowledge of this “secret world” of bacteria is now influencing how we approach dental treatment. A generalized application of antibiotics, for example, could harm beneficial bacteria as well as harmful ones. In trying to do good we may run the risk of disrupting the mouth’s microbiome balance—with adverse results on a patient’s long-term oral health.
The treatment strategies of the future will take this into account. While stopping dental disease will remain the top priority, the treatments of the future will seek to do it without harming the delicate balance of the mouth’s microbiome.
If you would like more information on the role of bacteria in oral 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 “New Research Show Bacteria Essential to Health.”
You probably wouldn't be surprised to hear that someone playing hockey, racing motocross or duking it out in an ultimate fighter match had a tooth knocked out. But acting in a movie? That's exactly what happened to Howie Mandel, well-known comedian and host of TV's America's Got Talent and Deal or No Deal. And not just any tooth, but one of his upper front teeth—with the other one heavily damaged in the process.
The accident occurred during the 1987 filming of Walk Like a Man in which Mandel played a young man raised by wolves. In one scene, a co-star was supposed to yank a bone from Howie's mouth. The actor, however, pulled the bone a second too early while Howie still had it clamped between his teeth. Mandel says you can see the tooth fly out of his mouth in the movie.
But trooper that he is, Mandel immediately had two crowns placed to restore the damaged teeth and went back to filming. The restoration was a good one, and all was well with his smile for the next few decades.
Until, that is, he began to notice a peculiar discoloration pattern. Years of coffee drinking had stained his other natural teeth, but not the two prosthetic (“false”) crowns in the middle of his smile. The two crowns, bright as ever, stuck out prominently from the rest of his teeth, giving him a distinctive look: “I looked like Bugs Bunny,” Mandel told Dear Doctor—Dentistry & Oral Health magazine.
His dentist, though, had a solution: dental veneers. These thin wafers of porcelain are bonded to the front of teeth to mask slight imperfections like chipping, gaps or discoloration. Veneers are popular way to get an updated and more attractive smile. Each veneer is custom-shaped and color-matched to the individual tooth so that it blends seamlessly with the rest of the teeth.
One caveat, though: most veneers can look bulky if placed directly on the teeth. To accommodate this, traditional veneers require that some of the enamel be removed from your tooth so that the veneer does not add bulk when it is placed over the front-facing side of your tooth. This permanently alters the tooth and requires it have a restoration from then on.
In many instances, however, a “minimal prep” or “no-prep” veneer may be possible, where, as the names suggest, very little or even none of the tooth's surface needs to be reduced before the veneer is placed. The type of veneer that is recommended for you will depend on the condition of your enamel and the particular flaw you wish to correct.
Many dental patients opt for veneers because they can be used in a variety of cosmetic situations, including upgrades to previous dental work as Howie Mandel experienced. So if slight imperfections are putting a damper on your smile, veneers could be the answer.
If you would like more information about veneers and other cosmetic dental enhancements, please contact us or schedule a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Porcelain Veneers” and “Porcelain Dental Crowns.”
A disease happening in one part of your body doesn’t necessarily stay there. Even a localized infection could eventually affect your general health. Periodontal (gum) disease, a bacterial infection that damages gums, teeth and supporting bone, is a case in point.
There’s now growing evidence that gum disease shares links with some other serious systemic diseases. Here are 4 serious health conditions and how gum disease could affect them.
Diabetes. Gum disease could make managing diabetes more difficult—and vice-versa. Chronic inflammation occurs in both conditions, which can then aggravate the other. Diabetics must deal with higher than normal glucose levels, which can also feed oral bacteria and worsen existing gum disease. On the plus side, though, effectively managing both conditions can lessen each one’s health impact.
Heart disease. Gum disease can worsen an existing heart condition and increase the risk of stroke. Researchers have found evidence that chronic inflammation from gum disease could further damage already weakened blood vessels and increase blood clot risks. Treating gum disease aggressively, on the other hand, could lower blood pressure as much as 13 points.
Rheumatoid Arthritis. The increased inflammatory response that accompanies arthritis (and other diseases like lupus or inflammatory bowel disease) can contribute to a higher risk for gum disease. As with the other conditions previously mentioned, chronic inflammation from a gum infection can also aggravate arthritis symptoms. Treating any form of chronic inflammation can ease symptoms in both arthritis and gum disease.
Alzheimer’s disease. The links of Alzheimer’s disease to gum disease are in the numbers: a recent study found people over 70 who’ve had gum disease for ten or more years were 70% more likely to develop dementia than those with healthy gums. There is also evidence that individuals with both Alzheimer’s and gum disease tended to decline more rapidly than those without gum disease.
From the accumulating evidence, researchers now view gum disease as more than an oral problem—it could impact your total health. That’s why you should adopt a disease prevention strategy with daily brushing and flossing and regular dental visits (or whenever you notice puffy, reddened or bleeding gums). Stopping gum disease could provide you a health benefit well beyond preserving your teeth and gums.
The internet has transformed how we get information. Where you once needed to find an encyclopedia, telephone directory or library, you can now turn to your handy smartphone or tablet for the same information.
But this convenience has a dark side: A lot of material online hasn’t undergone the rigorous proofreading and editing published references of yesteryear once required. It’s much easier now to encounter misinformation—and accepting some of it as true could harm your health. To paraphrase the old warning to buyers: “Viewer beware.”
You may already have encountered one such example of online misinformation: the notion that undergoing a root canal treatment causes cancer. While it may sound like the figment of some prankster’s imagination, the idea actually has a historical basis.
In the early 20th Century, a dentist named Weston Price theorized that leaving a dead anatomical part in the body led to disease or major health problems. In Price’s view, this included a tooth that had undergone a root canal treatment: With the vital pulp removed, the tooth was, in his view, “dead.”
Price amassed enough of a following that the American Dental Association rigorously investigated his claims in the 1950s and found them thoroughly wanting. For good measure, a Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA Otolaryngology—Head & Neck Surgery) published a study in 2013 finding that not only did canal treatments not increase cancer, but they might even be responsible for decreasing the risk by as much as forty-five percent.
Here’s one sure fact about root canal treatments—they can save a tooth that might otherwise be lost. Once decay has infiltrated the inner pulp of a tooth, it’s only a matter of time before it spreads through the root canals to the bone. Removing the infected pulp tissue and filling the resulting empty space and root canals gives the tooth a new lease on life.
So, be careful with health advice promoted on the internet. Instead, talk to a real authority on dental care, your dentist. If they propose a root canal treatment for you, they have your best health interest—dental and general—at heart.
If you would like more information on root canal treatment, 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 “Root Canal Safety: The Truth About Endodontic Treatment and Your Health.”
Although techniques and materials have changed, dentists still follow basic principles for treating tooth decay that date from the late 19th Century. And for good reason: They work. These principles first developed by Dr. G.V. Black—the "father of modern dentistry"—are widely credited with saving millions of teeth over the last century.
One of the most important of these treatment protocols is something known as "extension for prevention." In basic terms, it means a dentist removes not only decayed tooth structure but also healthy structure vulnerable to decay. But although effective in saving teeth, practicing this principle can result in loss of otherwise healthy tissue, which can weaken the tooth.
But with new advances in dentistry, decay treatment is getting an overhaul. While Dr. Black's time-tested protocols remain foundational, dentists are finding new ways to preserve more of the tooth structure in a concept known as minimally invasive dentistry (MID).
Better diagnostic tools. Because tooth decay can ultimately infect and damage the tooth's interior, roots and supporting bone, the best way to preserve more of the tooth structure is to treat it as early as possible. Now, new diagnostic tools like digital x-rays, microscopic magnification and optical scanning are helping dentists detect and treat decay earlier, thus reducing how much tissue is removed.
Better prevention methods. Oral hygiene and regular dental care are our basic weapons in the war with tooth decay. In addition, utilizing topical fluoride in combination with a milk-derived product called CPP-ACP dentists can get more of the cavity-fighting organic compound into the tooth enamel to strengthen it against acid attack.
Better treatment techniques. Using air abrasion (a fine particle spray that works like a miniature sandblaster) and lasers, dentists can now remove decayed structure with less harm to healthy tissue than with a traditional dental drill. And new, stronger dental fillings like those made with composite resins require less structural removal to accommodate them.
With these innovative approaches, dentists aren't just saving teeth, they're preserving more of their structure. And that can improve your overall dental health for the long-term.
If you would like more information on minimally invasive dentistry, 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 “Minimally Invasive Dentistry: When Less Care is More.”
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