Although dental care has made incredible advances over the last century, the underlying approach to treating tooth decay has changed little. Today’s dentists treat a decayed tooth in much the same way as their counterparts from the early 20th Century: remove all decayed structure, prepare the tooth and fill the cavity.
Dentists still use that approach not only because of its effectiveness, but also because no other alternative has emerged to match it. But that may change in the not-too-distant future according to recent research.
A research team at Kings College, London has found that a drug called Tideglusib, used for treating Alzheimer’s disease, appears to also stimulate teeth to regrow some of its structure. The drug seemed to cause stem cells to produce dentin, one of the tooth’s main structural layers.
During experimentation, the researchers drilled holes in mouse teeth. They then placed within the holes tiny sponges soaked with Tideglusib. They found that within a matter of weeks the holes had filled with dentin produced by the teeth themselves.
Dentin regeneration isn’t a new phenomenon, but other occurrences of regrowth have only produced it in tiny amounts. The Kings College research, though, gives rise to the hope that stem cell stimulation could produce dentin on a much larger scale. If that proves out, our teeth may be able to create restorations by “filling themselves” that are much more durable and with possibly fewer complications.
As with any medical breakthrough, the practical application for this new discovery may be several years away. But because the medication responsible for dentin regeneration in these experiments with mouse teeth is already available and in use, the process toward an application with dental patients could be relatively short.
If so, a new biological approach to treating tooth decay may one day replace the time-tested filling method we currently use. One day, you won’t need a filling from a dentist—your teeth may do it for you.
As the host of America's Funniest Home Videos on ABC TV, Alfonso Ribeiro has witnessed plenty of unintentional physical comedy…or, as he puts it in an interview with Dear Doctor–Dentistry & Oral Health magazine, "When people do stuff and you're like, 'Dude, you just hurt yourself for no reason!'" So when he had his own dental dilemma, Alfonso was determined not to let it turn onto an "epic fail."
The television personality was in his thirties when a painful tooth infection flared up. Instead of ignoring the problem, he took care of it by visiting his dentist, who recommended a root canal procedure. "It's not like you wake up and go, 'Yay, I'm going to have my root canal today!'" he joked. "But once it's done, you couldn't be happier because the pain is gone and you're just smiling because you're no longer in pain!"
Alfonso's experience echoes that of many other people. The root canal procedure is designed to save an infected tooth that otherwise would probably be lost. The infection may start when harmful bacteria from the mouth create a small hole (called a cavity) in the tooth's surface. If left untreated, the decay bacteria continue to eat away at the tooth's structure. Eventually, they can reach the soft pulp tissue, which extends through branching spaces deep inside the tooth called root canals.
Once infection gets a foothold there, it's time for root canal treatment! In this procedure, the area is first numbed; next, a small hole is made in the tooth to give access to the pulp, which contains nerves and blood vessels. The diseased tissue is then carefully removed with tiny instruments, and the canals are disinfected to prevent bacteria from spreading. Finally, the tooth is sealed up to prevent re-infection. Following treatment, a crown (cap) is usually required to restore the tooth's full function and appearance.
Root canal treatment sometimes gets a bad rap from people who are unfamiliar with it, or have come across misinformation on the internet. The truth is, a root canal doesn't cause pain: It relieves pain! The alternatives—having the tooth pulled or leaving the infection untreated—are often much worse.
Having a tooth extracted and replaced can be costly and time consuming…yet a missing tooth that isn't replaced can cause problems for your oral health, nutrition and self-esteem. And an untreated infection doesn't just go away on its own—it continues to smolder in your body, potentially causing serious problems. So if you need a root canal, don't delay!
If you would like additional information on root canal treatment, please contact us or schedule a consultation. You can learn more by reading the Dear Doctor magazine articles “A Step-By-Step Guide to Root Canal Treatment” and “Root Canal Treatment: What You Need to Know.”
August is National Wellness Month. Since part of staying in good overall health is taking care of your dental health, it's a good time to look at ways you can improve and maintain your oral health. Here are some tips:
Practice good oral hygiene. A fundamental key to a long life of healthy teeth and gums is keeping them clean of dental plaque. This thin biofilm of bacteria and food particles is the number one cause of tooth decay and periodontal (gum) disease. Brushing twice and flossing once each day gets rid of that unpleasant grittiness and reduces your risk of disease.
See your dentist regularly. A good daily oral hygiene habit works best at controlling soft plaque. But any that you miss—a possibility even with great brushing and flossing skill—can harden into calculus (tartar). To remove it, you'll need professional cleaning by a dental professional. The American Dental Association recommends a comprehensive dental cleaning at least twice a year to fully minimize your disease risk.
Eat a low-sugar, dental-friendly diet. Oral bacteria love to feast on the leftovers from your eating, especially sugar. So, cutting back on foods with added sugar isn't just good for other aspects of your health, it can also help "starve out" bacteria and reduce their population in your mouth. You can also boost oral health by eating foods rich in minerals like calcium to maintain strong bones and teeth, and antioxidants that guard against oral cancer.
See your dentist at the first sign of problems. While hygiene, dental care and a nutritious diet can greatly reduce your risk of disease, it won't eliminate it completely. So see your dentist promptly if you notice red, swollen or bleeding gums, mouth pain or unusual spots on your teeth. The sooner you're diagnosed and treated, the less damage from dental disease and future treatment expense you'll endure.
Manage other inflammatory conditions. If you're dealing with a condition like heart disease, diabetes or arthritis, it could increase your risk of gum disease or make any occurrence of it worse. That's because gum disease and many systemic conditions share chronic inflammation as a common link. If an inflammatory condition is not managed through proper treatment, it could worsen any gum disease symptoms you have.
Pursuing wellness is a worthy goal—just be sure you include your oral health in the mix. A healthy mouth is a key ingredient for a healthy life. If you would like more information about gaining and maintaining optimum oral health, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Daily Oral Hygiene” and “Good Oral Health Leads to Better Health Overall.”
All-natural fruit juice with no additives: now what could be wrong with that? Nothing—unless your child is over-indulging. Too much of even natural fruit juice could increase their risk of tooth decay.
To understand why, we first need to look at the real culprit in tooth decay: mouth acid produced by oral bacteria as a byproduct of their digestion of sugar. Acid at high levels softens and erodes tooth enamel, which causes tooth decay. Acid levels can rise as populations of bacteria increase often fueled by sugar, one of bacteria's primary food sources.
And not just the added sugar found in soft drinks, snacks or candies—even fructose, the natural sugar found in fruit, can feed bacteria. To lower the risk of tooth decay, dentists recommend limiting the daily amount of sugar a child consumes, including natural fruit juices without added sugar.
That doesn't mean you should nix natural fruit juices altogether—they remain a good source of vitamins, minerals and other nutrients. But you'll need to keep your child's juice consumption within moderation.
As a guide, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has issued consumption recommendations for children regarding all-natural fruit juice. The academy recommends the following daily juice amounts by age:
- 7-18: 8 ounces (1 cup) or less;
- 4-6: 6 ounces or less;
- 1-3: 4 ounces or less;
- Under 1: No juice at all.
You can further reduce your child's decay risk by limiting their juice intake to mealtimes, a good practice with any sweetened beverage. Sipping through the day on juice or other sweetened beverages can cause some sugar to stay in the mouth over long periods. This can interfere with the natural ability of saliva to neutralize any acid buildup.
If you're wondering what children could drink instead of juice, low-fat or non-fat milk is an acceptable choice. But the most tooth-friendly liquid to drink is plain water. Drinking nature's hydrator is not only better for their overall health, by reducing the risk of tooth decay, it's also better for their teeth.
If you would like more information on how sugar can affect 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 “Squeeze Out the Juice.”
The journey to a straighter smile with braces can be difficult. One of the biggest dangers you'll face is an increased risk of periodontal (gum) disease.
Gum disease is caused by dental plaque, a thin film of bacteria and food particles on tooth surfaces. To curtail plaque growth, you must brush and floss daily and visit your dentist regularly for more thorough cleanings. If you don't, accumulated plaque can trigger an infection with potentially disastrous consequences for your dental health.
But wearing braces can make you more vulnerable to gum disease. The braces and wires can get in the way of brushing and flossing. To add to the difficulty, the gums often react to being in close proximity to braces, causing their tissues to swell or overgrow. And if the patient is a teenager, the normal hormonal surge that occurs during these years could compound this vulnerability even more.
To prevent an infection, you'll need to practice extra diligence cleaning your teeth with brushing and flossing. It takes more time and effort, but it's worth it to lower your disease risk. To help even more, consider using tools like specialized brushes that can maneuver better around hardware and floss threaders that can get floss under wires. You might also consider a water flosser, which uses pressurized water to remove plaque between teeth.
In addition to your orthodontic visits, you should also maintain your regular cleaning schedule with your family dentist—or more often if they recommend. Besides cleaning, your dentist also monitors for signs of developing gum disease. They can also prescribe mouthrinses for controlling bacterial growth.
Even with diligent hygiene, your gums may still adversely react to the braces. This may not be a problem if your gum tissues don't appear to be detaching from the teeth. But your dentist or orthodontist may recommend you see a periodontist (a gum specialist) to help monitor that aspect of your care. In extreme cases, it may be necessary to remove the braces and allow the gums to heal.
Keeping your teeth clean and your mouth disease-free is no easy task while wearing braces. But it can be done—and with your dentist's help, you can achieve a straighter and healthier smile.
If you would like more information on dental care while wearing braces, 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 “Gum Swelling During Orthodontics.”
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