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.
Dairy foods have played a role in human diets for thousands of years. More than one kid—whether millennia ago on the Mesopotamian plains or today in an American suburb—has been told to drink their milk to grow strong. This is because milk and other dairy products contain vitamins and minerals that are essential for a healthy body, including healthy teeth and gums. In honor of National Dairy Month in June, here are four ways dairy boosts your oral health:
Dental-friendly vitamins, minerals and proteins. Dairy products are an excellent source of many vitamins and minerals that are important for good dental health. They are packed with calcium and phosphorus, two minerals that work together to strengthen tooth enamel. In addition to the vitamins they contain naturally, milk and yogurt are fortified with vitamin D, which aids in calcium and phosphorus absorption; cheese contains a small amount of vitamin D naturally. What's more, dairy proteins have been shown to prevent or reduce the erosion of tooth enamel and strengthen the connective tissues that hold teeth in place.
Lactose: a more tooth-friendly sugar. Sugars like sucrose or high fructose corn syrup, which are routinely added to processed foods, are a primary trigger for tooth decay. This is because certain oral bacteria consume sugar, producing acid as a by-product. The acid weakens tooth enamel, eventually resulting in cavities. Dairy products—at least those without added sugar—are naturally low in sugar, and the sugar they contain, lactose, results in less acid production than other common sugars.
The decay-busting power of cheese. We know that high acidity in the mouth is a major factor in decay development. But cheese is low in acidity, and a quick bite of it right after eating a sugary snack could help raise the mouth's pH out of the danger zone. Cheeses are also rich in calcium, which could help preserve that important mineral's balance in tooth enamel.
Dairy for gum health. A study published in the Journal of Periodontology found that people who regularly consumed dairy products had a lower incidence of gum disease than those who did not. And since gum health is related to the overall health, it's important to do all we can to prevent and manage gum disease.
For those who cannot or choose not to consume dairy products, there are other foods that supply calcium naturally, such as beans, nuts and leafy greens—and many other foods are fortified with calcium, vitamin D and other nutrients. It may be wise to take a multivitamin or calcium with vitamin D as a supplement as well.
If you would like more information about nutrition and oral health, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Nutrition & Oral Health” and “How to Help Your Child Develop the Best Habits for Oral Health.”
Let’s say you’re traveling to Italy to surprise your girlfriend, who is competing in an alpine ski race… and when you lower the scarf that’s covering your face, you reveal to the assembled paparazzi that one of your front teeth is missing. What will you do about this dental dilemma?
Sound far-fetched? It recently happened to one of the most recognized figures in sports — Tiger Woods. There’s still some uncertainty about exactly how this tooth was taken out: Was it a collision with a cameraman, as Woods’ agent reported… or did Woods already have some problems with the tooth, as others have speculated? We still don’t know for sure, but the big question is: What happens next?
Fortunately, contemporary dentistry offers several good solutions for the problem of missing teeth. Which one is best? It depends on each individual’s particular situation.
Let’s say that the visible part of the tooth (the crown) has been damaged by a dental trauma (such as a collision or a blow to the face), but the tooth still has healthy roots. In this case, it’s often possible to keep the roots and replace the tooth above the gum line with a crown restoration (also called a cap). Crowns are generally made to order in a dental lab, and are placed on a prepared tooth in a procedure that requires two office visits: one to prepare the tooth for restoration and to make a model of the mouth and the second to place the custom-manufactured crown and complete the restoration. However, in some cases, crowns can be made on special machinery right in the dental office, and placed during the same visit.
But what happens if the root isn’t viable — for example, if the tooth is deeply fractured, or completely knocked out and unable to be successfully re-implanted?
In that case, a dental implant is probably the best option for tooth replacement. An implant consists of a screw-like post of titanium metal that is inserted into the jawbone during a minor surgical procedure. Titanium has a unique property: It can fuse with living bone tissue, allowing it to act as a secure anchor for the replacement tooth system. The crown of the implant is similar to the one mentioned above, except that it’s made to attach to the titanium implant instead of the natural tooth.
Dental implants look, function and “feel” just like natural teeth — and with proper care, they can last a lifetime. Although they may be initially expensive, their quality and longevity makes them a good value over the long term. A less-costly alternative is traditional bridgework — but this method requires some dental work on the adjacent, healthy teeth; plus, it isn’t expected to last as long as an implant, and it may make the teeth more prone to problems down the road.
What will the acclaimed golfer do? No doubt Tiger’s dentist will help him make the right tooth-replacement decision.
If you have a gap in your grin — whatever the cause — contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation, and find out which tooth-replacement system is right for you. You can learn more in the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Dental Implant Surgery” and “Crowns & Bridgework.”
The basics for treating tooth decay have changed little since the father of modern dentistry Dr. G.V. Black developed them in the early 20th Century. Even though technical advances have streamlined treatment, our objectives are the same: remove any decayed material, prepare the cavity and then fill it.
This approach has endured because it works—dentists practicing it have preserved billions of teeth. But it has had one principle drawback: we often lose healthy tooth structure while removing decay. Although we preserve the tooth, its overall structure may be weaker.
But thanks to recent diagnostic and treatment advances we’re now preserving more of the tooth structure during treatment than ever before. On the diagnostic front enhanced x-ray technology and new magnification techniques are helping us find decay earlier when there’s less damaged material to remove and less risk to healthy structure.
Treating cavities has likewise improved with the increased use of air abrasion, an alternative to drilling. Emitting a concentrated stream of fine abrasive particles, air abrasion is mostly limited to treating small cavities. Even so, dentists using it say they’re removing less healthy tooth structure than with drilling.
While these current advances have already had a noticeable impact on decay treatment, there’s more to come. One in particular could dwarf every other advance with its impact: a tooth repairing itself through dentin regeneration.
This futuristic idea stems from a discovery by researchers at King’s College, London experimenting with Tideglusib, a medication for treating Alzheimer’s disease. The researchers placed tiny sponges soaked with the drug into holes drilled into mouse teeth. After a few weeks the holes had filled with dentin, produced by the teeth themselves.
Dentin regeneration isn’t new, but methods to date haven’t been able to produce enough dentin to repair a typical cavity. Tideglusib has proven more promising, and it’s already being used in clinical trials. If its development continues to progress, patients’ teeth may one day repair their own cavities without a filling.
Dr. Black’s enduring concepts continue to define tooth decay treatment. But developments now and on the horizon are transforming how we treat this disease in ways the father of modern dentistry couldn’t imagine.
It can be alarming to be awakened in the middle of the night by a screeching, gritting sound coming from your child’s bedroom. No, it’s not a scene from a horror movie: it’s your child grinding their teeth as they sleep — a behavior so prevalent in children under eleven it’s considered normal.
That doesn’t mean, however, you should completely ignore it. While it isn’t harmful for most children, a few can encounter tooth wear, pain or trouble sleeping that calls for some form of intervention.
The causes for tooth grinding and similar habits known collectively as bruxism aren’t thoroughly understood, but in children it’s believed linked to the immaturity of the neuromuscular system that controls chewing. Some point to shifts from one stage of sleep to another — more than 80% of grinding episodes occur in lighter stages of sleep and only 5% to 10% during the deeper Rapid-Eye-Movement (REM) stage. It also seems prevalent in children who snore or have other symptoms of sleep apnea.
One primary concern is how the behavior can affect teeth, particularly through abnormal wear. The teeth, of course, make hundreds of contacts with each other every day during eating, speaking or jaw movement. If, however, the forces generated during these contacts chronically exceed normal parameters, as with bruxism, it can cause accelerated tooth wear. This can result in a higher susceptibility to tooth decay and appearance changes later in life.
If your child is exhibiting problems associated with teeth grinding, there are ways to address it. We may recommend a thin, plastic mouthguard they wear while sleeping that prevents the teeth from making solid contact with each other. We may also refer you to an ear, nose and throat specialist if we suspect signs of sleep apnea. And, children under severe psychological stress, which can also trigger teeth grinding, could benefit from behavioral therapy.
The good news is most grinding habits fade as children enter their teens. In the meantime, keep a watchful eye and see us if you notice any indications this common habit is affecting their health and well-being.
If you would like more information on teeth grinding habits, 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 “When Children Grind Their Teeth.”
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