Posts for category: Oral Health
Today’s dental care has advanced leaps and bound over the last century. But these advances are tiny steps compared to what many believe may be coming in the next few decades. This optimism arises from our growing understanding of deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA), the chain-like molecule that houses the genetic instructions for the growth, function and reproduction of every cell in the body.
As researchers unlock the secrets of this vast genetic blueprint unique to each individual the possible applications from this knowledge are astounding. Here are just a few possibilities that could one day impact everyone’s oral health.
Preventing tooth decay. This rampant disease, triggered by bacteria (particularly Streptococcus mutans), can cause extensive damage in otherwise healthy teeth. There’s already some indications from the study of genomics that we may be able to stop or at least hinder this disease in its tracks. Already we’re seeing advances in gene therapy that might be able to inhibit the growth of Strep mutans and reduce its colonies in the mouth.
Growing new teeth. Composed of various layers, a natural tooth is part of a dynamic system of bone and gum ligaments that allow movement, protection and nourishment. Although dental implants are the closest and most advanced artificial approximation we now have to them, implants still can’t fully measure up to the function and capabilities of a natural tooth. But further insight into the genetic code may one day allow us to reproduce a living replacement tooth for a lost one.
Harnessing saliva for detecting disease. The impact of genomics related to the mouth could impact more than just the mouth itself. Researchers have discovered that saliva contains genetic information similar to blood, urine and other bodily fluids with markers for various disease conditions. Unlike other fluids, though, saliva is relatively easy to collect. The key is new equipment and testing protocols to take advantage of the information already available in a single drop of saliva.
These examples illustrate the range of possibilities for better health in the future: a reduction in dental disease early in life; new and better ways to restore missing teeth; and quicker ways to diagnose dangerous health conditions.
If you would like more information on new developments in 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 “The Future of Dentistry: A Sneak Preview of Your Dental Future.”
In your search for the right toothpaste, you’re inundated with dozens of choices, each promising whiter teeth, fresher breath or fewer cavities. Cutting through the various marketing claims, though, you’ll find most toothpaste brands are surprisingly alike, each containing the same basic ingredients. Taken together, these ingredients help toothpaste perform its primary task — removing daily bacterial plaque from tooth surfaces.
Here, then, are some of the ingredients you’ll find — or want to find — in toothpaste.
Abrasives. A mild abrasive increases your brushing effectiveness removing sticky food remnants from teeth. And unlike the burnt, crushed eggshells of the ancient Egyptians or the brick dust used by 18th Century Brits, today’s toothpaste abrasives — hydrated silica (from sand), calcium carbonate or dicalcium phosphates — are much milder and friendlier to teeth.
Detergents. Some substances in plaque aren’t soluble, meaning they won’t break down in contact with water. Such substances require a detergent, also known as a surfactant. It performs a similar action as dishwashing or laundry soaps breaking down grease and stains — but the detergents used in toothpaste are much milder so as not to damage teeth or irritate gum tissues. The most common detergent, sodium lauryl sulfate, is gentle but effective for most people. If it does cause you irritation, however, you may want to look for a paste that doesn’t contain it.
Fluoride. This proven enamel strengthener has been routinely added to toothpaste since the 1950s, and is regarded as one of the most important defenses against tooth decay. If you’re checking ingredients labels, you’ll usually find it listed as sodium fluoride, stannous fluoride or sodium monofluorosphosphate (MFP). And since it inhibits bacterial growth, fluoride toothpastes don’t require preservative additives.
Humectants, binders and flavoring. Humectants help toothpaste retain moisture, while binders prevent blended ingredients from separating; without them your toothpaste would dry out quickly and require stirring before each use. And, without that sweet (though without added sugar) and normally mint flavoring, you wouldn’t find the average toothpaste very tasty.
The ADA Seal of Approval. Although not an ingredient, it’s still sound advice to look for it on toothpaste packaging. The seal indicates the product’s health claims and benefits are supported by the research standards set by the American Dental Society; and all ADA approved toothpastes will contain fluoride.
If you would like more information on toothpaste and other oral hygiene products, 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 “Toothpaste: What’s in it?”
While tooth decay seems to get most of the “media attention,” there’s another oral infection just as common and destructive: periodontal (gum) disease. In fact, nearly half of adults over 30 have some form of it.
And like tooth decay, it begins with bacteria: while most are benign or even beneficial, a few strains of these micro-organisms can cause gum disease. They thrive and multiply in a thin, sticky film of food particles on tooth surfaces called plaque. Though not always apparent early on, you may notice symptoms like swollen, reddened or bleeding gums.
The real threat, though, is that untreated gum disease will advance deeper below the gum line, infecting the connective gum tissues, tooth roots and supporting bone. If it’s not stopped, affected teeth can lose support from these structures and become loose or out of position. Ultimately, you could lose them.
We can stop this disease by removing accumulated plaque and calculus (calcified plaque, also known as tartar) from the teeth, which continues to feed the infection. To reach plaque deposits deep below the gum line, we may need to surgically access them through the gums. Even without surgery, it may still take several cleaning sessions to remove all of the plaque and calculus found.
These treatments are effective for stopping gum disease and allowing the gums to heal. But there’s a better way: preventing gum disease before it begins through daily oral hygiene. In most cases, plaque builds up due to a lack of brushing and flossing. It takes only a few days without practicing these important hygiene tasks for early gingivitis to set in.
You should also visit the dentist at least twice a year for professional cleanings and checkups. A dental cleaning removes plaque and calculus from difficult to reach places. Your dentist also uses the visit to evaluate how well you’re doing with your hygiene efforts, and offer advice on how you can improve.
Like tooth decay, gum disease can rob you of your dental health. But it can be stopped—both you and your dentist can keep this infection from ruining your smile.
While tooth decay and periodontal (gum) disease destroy more teeth than any other causes, both of these diseases are largely preventable with proper oral hygiene and dental treatment. It’s more than possible, then, to enjoy a lifetime of healthy, disease-free teeth.
But even with healthy teeth, the effects of aging will cause tooth wear over time. And although we can’t prevent the aging process from occurring altogether, there are steps we can take not to accelerate the process.
Most tissues, including bone and teeth, have a growth cycle in which older cells are broken down (known as catabolism), removed and replaced by newer cells (anabolism). As we develop during childhood, the growth phase exceeds breakdown; when we reach adulthood, the two phases come into equilibrium. But as we age, breakdown will gradually overtake growth. This aging effect results in, among other outcomes, tooth wear.
“Normal” wear appears to be greatest — and most visible — along the biting surfaces of the teeth. The forces generated when we bite or chew causes enamel to erode over time. Unfortunately, you can accelerate this process through bad oral habits: clenching or grinding teeth, often times at night while you sleep, as well as habitually chewing on hard objects like nails or pencils.
Normal forces generated when we bite or chew are actually beneficial for dental health — they help stimulate bone growth. But when they exceed their normal range as when we clench or grind our teeth, they can increase tooth wear and cause other problems such as diminished function or changes in appearance, such as a shortened facial height.
To slow the rate of wear, it’s important to modify any behaviors that may be contributing to it. In many cases an occlusal night guard worn while you sleep helps prevent teeth clenching. You may also need assistance with stress management, a major trigger for these kinds of habits, through biofeedback therapy or counseling.
If you’ve already encountered excessive wear, bonding techniques using colored composite resin, veneers or crowns that attach directly to the teeth can restore lost function and rejuvenate the appearance and color of your teeth. We can perform a “smile analysis” to determine if one of these techniques is right for you to help you regain a more youthful and attractive smile.
If you would like more information on aging and tooth wear, 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 “How and Why Teeth Wear.”
If you’ve noticed a small sore in your mouth, it’s possible you have a non-contagious disease known as lichen planus. Although usually benign, it’s still a good idea to have it examined and monitored.
The condition is so named because its lesions are similar in appearance to lichen, the algae and fungi organism often found on rocks and trees. It’s believed to be a type of autoimmune disease, in which the body treats some of its own cells as foreign and reacts adversely to them. Certain medications and substances may also cause a lichenoid reaction. Besides the inner cheeks, gums or tongue, lichen planus may also appear on other skin or mucous surfaces on the wrists, legs or fingernails.
When it appears inside the mouth it usually resembles a lacy pattern of white lines or ulceration. Gum tissues may become red and inflamed, with some soreness after brushing or eating. Although there’s no known cure for lichen planus, it rarely causes serious problems — in fact, you may not even be aware you have the condition unless pointed out during a dental exam. It may, in time, fade away.
If the lesions do become bothersome (painful, itchy or overly-sensitive), there are some ways to ease discomfort: brushing with a soft toothbrush (to minimize irritation), flossing, and avoiding acidic or spicy foods and beverages which have been known to cause flare-ups. Managing stress is also helpful, and a topical steroid may be prescribed for more severe outbreaks.
Perhaps the greatest concern with lichen planus, though, is it may resemble more serious conditions, particularly oral cancer. The only way to be certain that it is a benign condition is to perform a biopsy on some of the affected tissue. If you notice a problem, be sure to visit us for a complete examination. And regardless of whether you have the condition or not, regular oral cancer screenings, as well as limits on alcohol consumption and stopping use of tobacco, will also reduce your risk of oral cancer.
Odds are if you have a case of lichen planus it isn’t causing you any problems. If it does cause you discomfort, though, you can take steps to ease your symptoms.