Bacteria are bad… right? They can cause diseases like pneumonia, strep throat, and tooth decay. They are the reason we wash our hands with soap (or antibacterial gels) and cook (or refrigerate) our food. Yet it turns out that bacteria are also necessary to keep our bodies healthy — and new research is showing just how important these tiny microorganisms are to our well-being. Here are five facts you should know about bacteria.
The bacteria in our bodies outnumber our cells by a factor of 10 to 1. An estimated 100 trillion bacteria live inside the average human — but because they’re so small, they make up only 1-3 percent of our body mass.
The collection of bacteria we harbor is called our “microbiome.” Like the groundbreaking study of human DNA called the Human Genome Project, recent research is leading to a “map” of our bacterial makeup. This revolutionary study is called — you guessed it — the Human Microbiome Project.
No two people have exactly the same microbiome. But in general, the bacteria that live in a particular spot on the body (the mouth, for example) play the same roles in different individuals. Research has also shown that a healthy microbiome looks very different from a diseased microbiome.
In terms of bacteria, the mouth is one of the best-understood areas of the body. It has long been known that tooth decay can result when “bad” oral bacteria begin to outnumber their “good” counterparts. Now we are gaining a better understanding of how certain lifestyle factors — like cigarette smoking — may influence the bacterial balance in the mouth.
Understanding the microbiome may lead to new treatments for disease. Researchers hope that one day, certain serious diseases could be controlled by bacterial “transplants” that re-balance an individual’s microbiome. Maintaining a healthy microbiome could also help prevent many diseases.
So by all means, don’t stop brushing your teeth or washing your hands — this helps control bacteria that could harm you — but do remember that not all bacteria are harmful. One day, an infusion of bacteria might just cure your illness.
Do you still feel tired or unfocused even after a full night’s sleep? Do others complain about your snoring? It’s possible these are signs that you may have sleep apnea.
Sleep apnea is a condition in which you stop breathing while you sleep. Your brain will awaken you to breathe, although you may not consciously realize it since the waking period can be less than a second. But it does disrupt your sleep rhythm, especially during the all-important deep sleep period called Rapid Eye Movement (REM). These disruptions don’t allow your body to receive the full benefit of sleep, hence your lack of energy and focus during the day.
One of the most common causes for sleep apnea is the collapse of soft tissues near the throat as they relax during sleep that restrict the airway. Snoring is an indication this may be occurring: air vibrates rapidly (and loudly) as it passes through this restriction when you breathe in.
As your dentist, we’re well-trained in the anatomy and function of the entire oral structure, and qualified to offer solutions for sleep apnea. If you’ve been diagnosed with sleep apnea (after a complete examination, including an observation session at a sleep laboratory), we can then help you decide on a treatment approach. The following are three such options, depending on the severity of your sleep apnea.
Oral Appliance Therapy. An oral appliance you wear while you sleep is a first line treatment for mild or moderate sleep apnea. The appliance, which we custom design for you, helps hold the lower jaw in a forward position: this moves the tongue and other soft structures away from the back of the throat, thereby opening the airway.
Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP). Intended for more moderate to severe forms of sleep apnea, a CPAP machine produces continuous air pressure to the throat through a mask you wear during sleep. This forces the tongue forward and the airway open.
Surgical Intervention. These procedures remove excess tissue that may be obstructing the airway. Due to its invasiveness and permanent alteration of the throat area, surgery is reserved for patients who haven’t responded to other therapies in a satisfactory manner.
Whether mild or severe, it’s possible to effectively treat sleep apnea. If successful, not only will you benefit from better sleep and greater alertness, you’ll also improve your long-term health.
If you would like more information on treating sleep apnea, 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 “Sleep Disorders & Dentistry.”
We’re all susceptible to gum disease when we fail to practice effective daily brushing and flossing. But you may have a greater risk of gum disease (and more severe forms of it) if any of the following categories pertain to you:
Aging. Gum disease risk naturally increases with age. We can lower the risk with an effective daily hygiene regimen, along with a minimum of two office cleanings and checkups each year. Brushing and flossing removes bacterial plaque and food particles which accumulate on tooth surfaces. The longer plaque remains in contact with gum tissues, the greater the chances of infection.
Pregnancy. Although women tend to take better care of their teeth than men, they still face unique issues that increase their risk. During pregnancy, for example, certain hormone levels rise, which cause the gums to become more responsive to bacteria. Other hormonal fluctuations throughout a woman’s life, including taking certain drugs for birth control or during menopause, can cause similar situations.
Family History. You could be at higher risk if members of your immediate family have a history of gum disease. Researchers estimate that 30% of the U.S. population has a genetic predisposition to the disease; it’s also possible for family members to transfer bacteria to other family members by way of saliva contact or shared eating utensils.
Smoking. Nicotine, the active ingredient in tobacco smoke, causes changes in the blood vessels of the mouth that could inhibit the flow of antibodies (produced by the body to fight infection) in the bloodstream. As a result, smokers experience more rapid disease development and greater detachment between teeth and gums than non-smokers.
Other Inflammatory Conditions. A number of studies indicate people with other inflammatory conditions like heart disease, arthritis or diabetes have a higher risk for gum disease. Some researchers have even suggested that bacteria associated with gum disease pass into the blood stream and threaten other parts of the body — an added incentive to seek treatment and stop the disease’s advancement.
If you fall into any of these risk categories, it’s even more urgent that you practice effective daily hygiene with regular office checkups. Additionally, if you begin to notice bleeding gums, tenderness and swelling, or loose teeth, contact us as soon as possible for an evaluation.
If you would like more information on the diagnosis and treatment of 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 “Assessing Risk for Gum Disease.”
Modern restorations for severely damaged or missing teeth are truly remarkable. Although the type of restoration may differ — dental implant, bridge, or veneer — the end result is a life-like facsimile that matches the shape and color of your natural teeth.
To achieve this result, though, the new crown or veneer requires fabrication in a dental laboratory, a meticulous process that may take a few weeks. In the interim, we often install temporary crowns. These help in a number of ways: because we’ve prepared the teeth for final restoration by removing some of the tooth structure, the temporary crown protects and stabilizes the teeth, reduces sensitivity and helps maintain gum health. Temporary crowns also enable the patient to present a more natural smile while waiting for the permanent restoration.
Temporary crowns are typically manufactured to fit a wide range of patients, similar to an “off-the-rack” suit from a clothing store. In recent years, though, customized “tailored” temporary crowns designed specifically for an individual patient have grown in popularity among dental professionals as well as patients.
In creating a customized temporary crown, we first perform a smile analysis similar to one used for a permanent restoration. After a careful assessment of your mouth, we would then make recommendations about the elements to include in the temporary crown, including shape and color. We would also factor in your desires and concerns into the final design. Working together with the dental laboratory, we would then have the temporary crowns produced and ready to apply as soon as we complete the preparatory work.
Customized temporary crowns also serve another important purpose as a kind of “dress rehearsal” for the permanent restoration. This gives you an opportunity to “try out” the smile you’ll have with the permanent restoration in your daily life. We can then use your experience to make adjustments to the permanent crowns before final production.
While customized temporary crowns involve more effort and expense than the traditional, the benefits are worth the added cost, especially if you’re involved with an extensive “smile makeover” procedure. Not only will you look better while your permanent restoration is under construction, your temporary look will give you added confidence that your future smile is right for you.
If you would like more information on temporary and permanent dental restorations, 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 “Concepts of Temporary Restorations.”
Statistically speaking, Americans can expect to enjoy a longer life today than at any time in the past. A recent U.S. government interagency study indicated that our oldest citizens are also generally getting healthier and doing better economically. Yet, along with an increased lifespan comes the possibility that at some future time, you or a loved one may undergo treatment for cancer.
There's good news here too: According to the National Cancer Institute, a branch of the National Institutes of Health, both the rate of cancer incidence and the death rate from the disease have been steadily declining. It's true that cancer treatments may cause a variety of oral health problems. But did you know that there are some measures you can take to minimize the discomfort and possible complications from these lifesaving therapies?
Chemotherapy and radiation, two common treatments, work by attacking cancerous cells. However, they can affect normal cells too — including the cells lining the mouth, and the salivary glands. This sometimes results in mouth sores, a dry mouth, and an increased risk of developing dental diseases like tooth decay.
What should you do if you or someone you love needs cancer treatments? The best outcomes can be obtained by a dose of prevention when possible, and by taking a team approach to the treatment.
Oral side effects may be worse if the mouth isn't healthy prior to cancer treatment. So, if there's time, have necessary dental procedures done before treatment begins. During and after cancer therapy, dental surgery should be limited if possible. The first step is to get a complete dental examination, and to develop a treatment plan. It's vitally important to coordinate any dental treatments with an oncologist (cancer specialist).
There are also things a patient can do to help control unpleasant oral side effects. Removing the bacteria that cause tooth decay is more essential now than ever. In addition to thorough brushing, an antibacterial rinse or fluoride gel may be prescribed. To combat the symptoms of dry mouth, it's important to drink plenty of fluids. Chewing gum with Xylitol, or using a mouth rinse or a prescription medication may also be recommended.
It's essential for those having cancer treatment to understand and follow the recommendations of their dentist and doctor. These include taking steps to reduce the chance of complications, and recognizing the warning signs that may indicate a problem.
If you would like more information about cancer treatment and oral health, please contact us or schedule an appointment to discuss your treatment options. You can learn more in the Dear Doctor magazine article “Oral Health During Cancer Treatment.”
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