Posts for category: Oral Health
Ever wonder just exactly what causes cavities? Once upon a time, “Toothworms” — miniscule, yet relentless pests — were thought to be responsible for this widespread malady. This belief persisted from ancient times through the 17th Century; William Shakespeare even made reference to the baneful beasts in his play Much Ado about Nothing. (“What, sigh for a toothache? [It] is but a humor or a worm.”) Today, however, we know why no one ever observed an honest-to-goodness toothworm: it’s because they’re much too tiny to see with the naked eye.
Actually, it isn’t worms, but much smaller organisms that cause tooth decay. These harmful plaque bacteria (along with many helpful microorganisms) live in the mouth, and build up on surfaces of the teeth when they aren’t cleaned properly. They feed on sugar in the diet, and release substances that erode tooth enamel, which causes small holes called cavities. Cavities, in turn, are what’s responsible for most toothaches.
While we may scoff at old legends, one fact remains: Even today, according to the National Institutes of Health, tooth decay is the number one chronic disease of both children and adults; and it’s almost entirely preventable. We can’t blame it on toothworms — but what can we do about it?
Glad you asked! The best way to avoid decay is through prevention. That means brushing your teeth twice a day with a fluoride toothpaste, and flossing them every day. It also means eating a balanced diet and avoiding acidic and sugary foods — like soda, some juices, and sweet, sticky snacks. If you do consume these types of foods, limit them to mealtimes; that gives your saliva enough time in between to neutralize the acids naturally. And, of course, make an appointment see us twice a year for a complete check-up and professional cleaning.
If you do begin to notice the symptoms of tooth decay (toothache, for example) it’s important to come in to the dental office right away, so we can treat the problem before it gets worse. Prompt action can often help save a tooth that might otherwise be lost. Besides filling the cavity, we may be also able to recommend ways to help prevent the disease from affecting other teeth. And if you need a more extensive procedure to relieve the problem — such as a root canal — we can make sure you get the appropriate treatment.
We’ve come a long way since the “toothworm” days — but we can still do a lot more to make tooth decay a thing of the past.
If you would like more information about tooth decay and cavity prevention, please contact us or schedule an appointment. You can learn more in the Dear Doctor magazine article “Tooth Decay — The World’s Oldest & Most Widespread Disease” and “Tooth Decay — How To Assess Your Risk.”
Chewing tobacco has a certain cachet among its users, especially young boys and men, who believe using it makes them appear macho or “cool.” They also believe this “smokeless” variety (as it's often marketed by tobacco companies) is safer than cigarettes or cigars.
Unfortunately, nothing could be further from the truth. In reality, chewing tobacco is harmful to your health — and especially your oral health. Regular use of these products can lead to severe dental and mouth conditions resulting in disease, disfigurement, or even death.
Like the smoked variety, chewing tobacco infuses its users with nicotine, a chemical stimulant naturally produced by the tobacco plant. The body responds to the stimulant's effect and begins to crave it, leading to addiction.
The problem, though, is the other ingredients in chewing tobacco: more than thirty other substances known to cause various kinds of cancer, including oral. Oral cancer alone is extremely dangerous: many patients suffer partial or complete loss of oral tissue and facial structures, including the tongue, lower jaw or even the face. Some even lose their lives — statistics show that only half of those with oral cancer survive more than five years after diagnosis.
Although cancer may be the most harmful effect of chewing tobacco, it isn't the only one. Researchers have found tobacco users have higher rates of tooth decay and gum disease than non-users. Tobacco also causes cosmetic and hygiene problems, including tooth staining and chronic bad breath.
If you're a tobacco user in any form, and especially chewing or spit tobacco, as your dentist we would advise you to consider quitting the habit. Giving up tobacco will not only improve your oral health and appearance, it may even save your life.
If you would like more information on the dangers of chewing tobacco, 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 “Chewing Tobacco.”
By the time you reach adulthood, roughly 100 trillion microscopic organisms will have taken up residence in and on your body, outnumbering your own cells 10 to 1. Most are bacteria, a domain of the animal kingdom considered synonymous with disease. But only a few of the thousands of bacterial species cause us harm; the rest are either benign or actually beneficial to our health, including in our mouths.
Dentistry pioneered much of our knowledge about bacteria, developing processes used to identify, classify and understand those species inhabiting our mouths. Science as a whole is catching up with the Human Microbiome Project (HMP) begun in 2007. Through HMP, researchers have catalogued and begun to study more than 10,000 bacterial species.
We’re finding that our bodies develop a symbiotic relationship with many of these creatures invisible to the naked eye. During our infancy the bacteria we ingest from birth and breast feeding begin to interact with our body’s immune system, “teaching” it to refrain from attacking friendly organisms that contribute to health and searching and destroying enemy species that cause disease.
We’re also learning that an imbalance with our individual population of bacteria has links with disease. Our digestive system is a prime example: bacteria related to obesity can overpopulate our digestive tract, while malnutrition can create an environment that produces too many bacteria that inhibit digestion of vitamins and other nutrients.
The same microbial imbalance can occur in the mouth. For example, our typical Western diet encourages the growth of bacteria most associated with tooth decay (Streptococcus mutans). We’re also finding that tobacco smoking creates a mouth environment more conducive to the bacteria that cause gum disease. Just by quitting smoking you can alter that environment to encourage growth of health-promoting bacteria and inhibit growth of malevolent species.
The desired outcome of this knowledge is to develop treatments that target disease-causing bacteria without harming those beneficial to us (as often occurs with traditional antibiotics). In dentistry, such possibilities could help stop the spread of tooth decay, gum disease or similar bacterial infections, while fostering a healthier oral environment that prevents disease and protects health.
Does the word “vitamin” make you think of a capsule that comes from a bottle… one that you’re supposed to take every day to improve your health? If so, it shows the effectiveness of the marketing strategy used by the vitamin and dietary supplement industry — a business that’s valued at $25 billion annually. The other definition, of course, is a substance that your body requires (in small amounts) to control normal metabolic functions and sustain life. It’s often assumed that taking vitamins in pill form can help you be healthier. But is that assertion really backed up by evidence?
It’s true that if your body is severely lacking in any of the 13 vitamins, you could be at risk for developing a disease related to vitamin deficiency: scurvy or pellagra, for example. Moreover, several vitamins (notably vitamins C and E, and beta carotene, a precursor to vitamin A) are also antioxidants; these are molecules that can protect our cells (and our genetic material) from damage caused by toxins in the environment and metabolic processes within our bodies.
Fruits and vegetables are rich in vitamins A and C, and vitamin E is found in vegetable oils. That’s one of the reasons why nutritionists and health-care providers stress the importance of a well-balanced diet, including plenty of plant-based foods. Many studies have shown that people who eat lots of vegetables and fruits have lower incidences of heart disease, cancer, and other chronic health problems.
You can also buy substances marketed as antioxidants and nutritional supplements in pill form. But contrary to what you might expect, in that form they don’t seem to have the same protective effect on the body. Scientists still aren’t sure why this is so, but it may have to do with the presence of many other biologically active compounds in vegetables and fruits. In fact, there is solid evidence that taking too many vitamins or supplements can be dangerous to your health.
We’re certainly not saying it’s of no use to take vitamins or nutritional supplements — especially if a deficiency is known to exist. If an individual isn’t getting enough vitamin D because they avoid exposure to sunlight, for example, then it makes sense to take a supplemental dose. But we need to remember that a supplement in pill form isn’t a substitute for a balanced diet — and taking unneeded supplements, or excessive doses, can lead to problems. Like it or not, there are few shortcuts on the road to good health. For more information about vitamins and supplements, see the Dear Doctor magazine article “Vitamins & Dietary Supplements: What Every Consumer Should Know.”
Periodontal (gum) disease is an infectious disease that progressively weakens the attachment of supporting tissues to the teeth, including gums, ligaments and bone. If not stopped, the loss of attachment will eventually lead to bone and tooth loss.
A thin layer of plaque that builds up on teeth (mainly due to poor oral hygiene habits) is the main breeding ground for the bacteria that cause gum disease. Our main treatment goal is to remove as much of this plaque as possible from tooth and gum surfaces. Much of the plaque can be removed using special hand or ultrasonic instruments that deep clean dental surfaces, including the roots. But while effective, these manual techniques may not address the full extent of infection, especially if the disease is well advanced.
If severe bone loss has already occurred, deep pockets of infection may have developed. As bone loss progresses, teeth with multiple roots may also develop an anatomical problem known as furcation invasions where the roots of the tooth branch off. If there continues to be signs of disease, like gum inflammation, bleeding or pus formation, it’s these hard to reach areas that may still be a problem even after extensive treatment. If so, we may need to take a different approach with antimicrobial or antibiotic products.
The most effective antimicrobial substance for reducing bacteria in biofilm is a chlorhexidine mouthrinse. The typical 0.12% solution is only available by prescription — if taken for a prolonged time it can result in tooth staining, affected taste or mouth irritation. To assure the solution reaches below the gum line, it will need to be applied by us in the office, followed up flushing irrigation of the affected area.
Another alternative is topically applied antibiotics that can stop or even reverse the progression of gum disease. There’s evidence that topical applications can penetrate into these deeper areas of infection. A common antibiotic used in this way is tetracycline, which has been shown to stop inflammation and infection.
These treatments don’t eliminate the need for mechanical cleaning, and the prolonged use of antibacterial products can have a detrimental effect on “good” bacteria (needed, for example, to complete the digestive process). It will depend on the extent of the gum disease to determine how successful conservative treatment may be. It’s also important that you contribute to your own dental health with a renewed daily oral hygiene habit.
If you would like more information on treatments for gum disease, 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 “Treating Difficult Areas of Periodontal Disease.”