Mention “bacteria” and people begin looking for the germicide. The truth is, though, only a few strains cause disease — the rest are benign or even play a beneficial role.
This may shock you, but your body both inside and out is home to around 100 trillion single-celled organisms, exceeding the number of your native cells by 10 to 1. You won't notice them, though: bacteria are so small they only make up 1 to 3% of your total body mass. And each of us has a unique “microbiome” of micro-organisms: they influence a variety of processes like digestion and metabolism, and some even “teach” our immune systems to distinguish between helpful and harmful bacteria.
Of the 10,000 or more species of bacteria that inhabit the body, perhaps the most studied and understood are in the mouth. We even have a database that catalogs the gene sequences of oral bacteria. And what we've learned has enlarged our understanding of dental disease and how to prevent or treat it.
This new knowledge, for example, confirms that many of our modern lifestyle habits adversely affect oral health. For example, researchers have found higher concentrations of Streptococcus mutans, the bacteria most responsible for tooth decay, in current samples of biofilm than in those from preindustrial eras. The culprit seems to be the modern diet rich with carbohydrates like sugar that bacteria eat. Cigarette smoking can also make the mouth friendlier to disease-causing bacteria.
On the bright side, our growing knowledge of oral bacteria is helping us devise better prevention and treatment strategies. One example is the use of antibiotics to reduce the populations of disease-causing oral bacteria.
The broad, traditional approach kills not only malevolent bacteria, but beneficial strains as well. The approach may also be helping bad bacteria become resistant to common antibiotics. A newer approach targets specific bacteria with custom-designed antibiotics that won't kill other bacteria. There's also increased focus on ways to re-balance a person's normal microbiome if it's become skewed.
As we come to understand bacteria better — both good and bad species — these and other dental care efforts will benefit. With our increasing knowledge of these microorganisms that surround us the future looks bright for better oral health.
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 Shows Bacteria Essential to Health.”
From the time they're born, you do everything you can to help your children develop a healthy body. That should include their teeth and gums. It's not over-dramatizing to say that what you do now may set the pattern for a healthy mouth for the rest of their life.
Here, then, are 4 things you should be doing for your children's oral health before they begin school.
Train them to brush and floss. Good hygiene habits have one primary purpose — remove dental plaque, a thin film of bacteria and food particles that builds up on tooth surfaces. Plaque is the number one cause of tooth decay and periodontal (gum) disease, so focus on brushing and later flossing as soon as their first teeth appear in the mouth, gradually training them to perform the tasks themselves. You can also teach them to test their efforts with a rub of the tongue — if it feels smooth and “squeaky,” their teeth are clean!
Keep your own oral bacteria to yourself. Children aren't born with decay-producing bacteria — it's passed on to them through physical contact from parents and caregivers. To limit their exposure to these “bad” bacteria, avoid kissing infants on the lips, don't share eating utensils and don't lick a pacifier to clean it off.
Eat healthy — and watch those sweets. Building up healthy teeth with strong enamel is as important to decay prevention as daily hygiene. Be sure they're getting the nutrients they need through a healthy diet of fresh fruits and vegetables, protein and dairy (and set a good example by eating nutritiously too). Sugar is a prime food source for bacteria that cause tooth decay, so avoid sugary snacks if possible and limit consumption to mealtimes.
Wean them off pacifiers and thumb sucking. It's quite normal for children to suck pacifiers and their thumbs as infants and young toddlers. It becomes a problem for bite development, though, if these habits continue into later childhood. As a rule of thumb, begin encouraging your children to stop sucking pacifiers or their thumbs by age 3.
If you would like more information on promoting your child's dental 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 “Help your Child Develop the Best Habits for Oral Health.”
You may be familiar with a dental implant used to replace a single tooth — but implant technology can do much more. Implants can also support other restorations including total teeth replacement on a jaw.
The reason they're so versatile is because implants replace the tooth root as well as the visible crown. We use a metal post, usually made of titanium, which we surgically implant in the jawbone as a root substitute. Because of a special affinity with titanium, bone around the implant grows and adheres to it and creates a durable bond.
With a single tooth replacement (the implant's original purpose when they were introduced in the 1980s) we attach a life-like porcelain crown to the individual titanium post. But with their continuing development we've adapted implants for other applications, like using a few strategically-placed implants as a stable platform for removable dentures or fixed bridges.
We're now able to use implants to support a full prosthetic (false) dental arch. Though similar in appearance to a removable denture, this particular prosthesis is permanently joined to the supporting implants with retaining screws.
Of course, the application requires careful pre-planning, which includes making sure you have enough healthy bone to support the implants. We'll also need to determine how many implants you'll need (usually four to six for this application) and create a surgical guide to place them in the best location for supporting the prosthesis. A dental technician will then create the prosthesis to match your jaw ridge contours and facial structure.
Using implants this way has a benefit other types of restorations can't provide: they may help stop future bone loss. The jawbone life cycle depends on stimulation from the attached tooth as you bite and chew — stimulation that ends when you lose the tooth. Traditional dentures and other restorations can't replicate that stimulation. Implants, on the other hand, directly encourage bone growth and can stop gradual bone loss.
If you need some form of total teeth replacement, consider one supported by implants. You may find they'll provide an excellent long-term solution to both function and appearance.
Dental implants are widely considered the most durable tooth replacement option, thanks in part to how they attach to the jaw. But durable doesn't mean indestructible — you must take care of them.
Implants have a unique relationship to the jawbone compared to other restorations. We imbed a slender titanium post into the bone as a substitute for a natural tooth root. Because bone has a special affinity with the metal, it grows to and adheres to the implant to create a secure anchor. This unique attachment gives implants quite an advantage over other restorations.
It isn't superior, however, to the natural attachment of real teeth, especially in one respect: it can't match a natural attachment's infection-fighting ability. A connective tissue attachment made up of collagen fibers are attached to the tooth root protecting the underlying bone. An elastic gum tissue called the periodontal ligament lies between the tooth root and the bone and attaches to both with tiny collagen fibers. These attachments create a network of blood vessels that supply nutrients and infection-fighting agents to the bone and surrounding gum tissue.
Implants don't have this connective tissue or ligament attachment or its benefits. Of course, the implants are made of inorganic material that can't be damaged by bacterial infection. However, the gums and bone that surround them are: and because these natural tissues don't have these same biologic barriers to infection and perhaps access to the same degree of antibodies as those around natural teeth, an infection known as peri-implantitis specific to implants can develop and progress.
It's therefore just as important for you to continue brushing and flossing to remove bacterial plaque that causes infection to protect the gums and bone around your implants. You should also keep up regular office cleanings and checkups. In fact, we take special care with implants when cleaning them by using instruments that won't scratch their highly polished surfaces. Such a scratch, even a microscopic one, could attract and harbor bacteria.
There's no doubt dental implants are an excellent long-term solution for restoring your smile and mouth function. You can help extend that longevity by caring for them just as if they're your natural teeth.
If you would like more information on caring for dental implants, 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 “Dental Implant Maintenance.”
Since the late 19th Century, dentists have used established protocols to successfully prevent and treat tooth decay. But there've been changes to this approach the last few years to improve its effectiveness, changes we now refer to as Minimally Invasive Dentistry or MID.
The older approach for treating dental caries (tooth decay) follows the protocols established by Dr. G.V. Black, considered the father of modern dentistry. Black advocated removing not only decayed structure but also some of the healthier but vulnerable portions of a tooth, to avoid further decay and make the tooth easier to clean. This resulted in larger fillings, although they've become smaller as dental techniques have advanced.
MID, on the other hand, aims to remove as little tooth structure as possible while still effectively treating and preventing future decay. To achieve that goal we begin first with a complete assessment of a patient's individual decay risk, known as Caries Management By Risk Assessment (CAMBRA).
With CAMBRA, we're looking at other factors besides individual tooth health: a patient's hygiene, lifestyle and dietary habits; the types and amount of bacteria present; and the quality of saliva flow, needed to neutralize mouth acid. With these the results we develop a customized prevention and treatment strategy.
MID also focuses on detecting dental caries as early as possible. Besides traditional x-rays, we're beginning to use other methods like dental microscopes, laser fluorescence, infrared photography or optical scanning. Early detection leads to early intervention, and with techniques that are much less invasive than the traditional approach.
The new approach also changes how we repair decayed teeth. We're increasingly using air abrasion, a technology that uses fine particles in a pressurized air stream to remove softer decayed tooth material and less healthy structure than the traditional dental drill. We're also using composite resin and other advanced materials for filings: these tooth-colored materials are stronger than previous versions and are quickly taking the place of metal amalgam, requiring less structural removal to accommodate them.
MID's core principles are early disease detection, proactive prevention and treatment with less structural removal. With this enhanced approach to effective dentistry, we're keeping your teeth healthy with minimal discomfort, lower costs and less long-term impact.
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