Today’s dental care has advanced leaps and bound over the last century. But these advances are tiny steps compared to what many believe may be coming in the next few decades. This optimism arises from our growing understanding of deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA), the chain-like molecule that houses the genetic instructions for the growth, function and reproduction of every cell in the body.
As researchers unlock the secrets of this vast genetic blueprint unique to each individual the possible applications from this knowledge are astounding. Here are just a few possibilities that could one day impact everyone’s oral health.
Preventing tooth decay. This rampant disease, triggered by bacteria (particularly Streptococcus mutans), can cause extensive damage in otherwise healthy teeth. There’s already some indications from the study of genomics that we may be able to stop or at least hinder this disease in its tracks. Already we’re seeing advances in gene therapy that might be able to inhibit the growth of Strep mutans and reduce its colonies in the mouth.
Growing new teeth. Composed of various layers, a natural tooth is part of a dynamic system of bone and gum ligaments that allow movement, protection and nourishment. Although dental implants are the closest and most advanced artificial approximation we now have to them, implants still can’t fully measure up to the function and capabilities of a natural tooth. But further insight into the genetic code may one day allow us to reproduce a living replacement tooth for a lost one.
Harnessing saliva for detecting disease. The impact of genomics related to the mouth could impact more than just the mouth itself. Researchers have discovered that saliva contains genetic information similar to blood, urine and other bodily fluids with markers for various disease conditions. Unlike other fluids, though, saliva is relatively easy to collect. The key is new equipment and testing protocols to take advantage of the information already available in a single drop of saliva.
These examples illustrate the range of possibilities for better health in the future: a reduction in dental disease early in life; new and better ways to restore missing teeth; and quicker ways to diagnose dangerous health conditions.
If you would like more information on new developments in dental care, 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 “The Future of Dentistry: A Sneak Preview of Your Dental Future.”
Ever since childhood, when her career as a model and actress took off, Brooke Shields has enjoyed worldwide recognition — through advertisements for designer jeans, appearances on The Muppet Show, and starring roles in big-screen films. But not long ago, that familiar face was spotted in an unusual place: wearing a nasal anesthesia mask at the dentist's office. In fact, Shields posted the photo to her own Instagram account, with the caption “More dental surgery! I grind my teeth!” And judging by the number of comments the post received, she's far from alone.
In fact, researchers estimate that around one in ten adults have dental issues that stem from teeth grinding, which is also called bruxism. (Many children also grind their teeth, but it rarely causes serious problems, and is often outgrown.) About half of the people who are teeth grinders report problems like persistent headaches, jaw tenderness and sore teeth. Bruxism may also result in excessive tooth wear, and may damage dental work like crowns and bridges; in severe cases, loosened or fractured teeth have been reported.
Researchers have been studying teeth grinding for many years; their findings seem to indicate that it has no single cause. However, there are a number of factors that play a significant role in this condition. One is the anatomy of the jaw itself, and the effect of worn or misaligned teeth on the bite. Another factor relates to changes in brain activity that occur during the sleep cycle. In fact, nocturnal (nighttime) bruxism is now classified as a sleep-related movement disorder. Still other factors, such as the use of tobacco, alcohol and drugs, and a high level of stress or anxiety, can make an individual more likely to experience bruxism.
What can be done for people whose teeth grinding is causing problems? Since this condition may have many causes, a number of different treatments are available. Successful management of bruxism often begins by striving to eliminate the factors that may cause problems — for example, making lifestyle changes to improve your health, creating a soothing nighttime environment, and trying stress-reduction techniques; these may include anything from warm baths and soft music at bedtime, to meditation and mindfulness exercises.
Several dental treatments are also available, including a custom-made occlusal guard (night guard) that can keep your teeth from being damaged by grinding. In some cases, a bite adjustment may also be recommended: In this procedure, a small amount of enamel is removed from a tooth to change the way it contacts the opposite tooth, thereby lessening the biting force on it. More invasive techniques (such as surgery) are rarely needed.
A little tooth grinding once in a while can be a normal response to stress; in fact, becoming aware of the condition is often the first step to controlling it. But if you begin to notice issues that could stem from bruxism — or if the loud grinding sounds cause problems for your sleeping partner — it may be time to contact us or schedule an appointment. You can read more about bruxism in the Dear Doctor magazine article “Stress and Tooth Habits.”
You’re considering dental implants and you’ve done your homework: you know they’re considered the best tooth replacements available prized for durability and life-likeness. But you do have one concern — you have a metal allergy and you’re not sure how your body will react to the implant’s titanium and other trace metals.
An allergy is the body’s defensive response against any substance (living or non-living) perceived as a threat. Allergic reactions can range from a mild rash to rare instances of death due to multiple organ system shutdowns.
A person can become allergic to anything, including metals. An estimated 17% of women and 3% of men are allergic to nickel, while 1-3% of the general population to cobalt and chromium. While most allergic reactions occur in contact with consumer products (like jewelry) or metal-based manufacturing, some occur with metal medical devices or prosthetics, including certain cardiac stents and hip or knee replacements.
There are also rare cases of swelling or rashes in reaction to metal fillings, commonly known as dental amalgam. A mix of metals — mainly mercury with traces of silver, copper and tin — dental amalgam has been used for decades with the vast majority of patients experiencing no reactions. Further, amalgam has steadily declined in use in recent years as tooth-colored composite resins have become more popular.
Which brings us to dental implants: the vast majority are made of titanium alloy. Titanium is preferred in implants not only because it’s biocompatible (it “gets along” well with the body’s immune system), but also because it’s osteophilic, having an affinity with living bone tissue that encourages bone growth around and attached to the titanium. Both of these qualities make titanium a rare trigger for allergies even for people with a known metal allergy.
Still, implant allergic reactions do occur, although in only 0.6% of all cases, or six out of a thousand patients. The best course, then, is to let us know about any metal allergies you may have (or other systemic conditions, for that matter) during our initial consultation for implants. Along with that and other information, we'll be better able to advise you on whether implants are right for you.
If you would like more information on the effects of metal allergies on 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 “Metal Allergies to Dental Implants.”
“Cut down on sweets, especially between meals” is perhaps one of the least popular words of advice we dentists regularly give. We’re not trying to be killjoys, but the facts are undeniable: both the amount and frequency of sugar consumption contributes to tooth decay. Our concern isn’t the naturally occurring sugars in fruits, vegetables, grains or dairy products, but rather refined or “free” sugars added to foods to sweeten them.
The World Health Organization and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration both advise consuming no more than 50 grams (about ten teaspoons) of sugar a day. Unfortunately, our nation’s average per person is much higher: we annually consume around 140 pounds per capita of refined sugars like table sugar or high fructose corn syrup, more than three times the recommended amount. Soft drinks are the single largest source of these in our diets — Americans drink an average of 52 gallons every year.
The connection between sugar and tooth decay begins with bacteria that ferments sugar present in the mouth after eating. This creates high levels of acid, which causes the mineral content of tooth enamel to soften and erode (a process called demineralization) and makes the teeth more susceptible to decay. Saliva naturally neutralizes acid, but it takes about thirty minutes to bring the mouth’s pH to a normal level. Saliva can’t keep up if sugars are continually present from constant snacking or sipping on soft drinks for long periods.
You can reduce the sugar-decay connection with a few dietary changes: limit your intake of sugar-added foods and beverages to no more than recommended levels; consume sweets and soft drinks only at meal times; replace sugar-added foods with fresh fruits and vegetables and foods that inhibit the fermentation process (like cheese or black and green teas); and consider using mint or chewing gum products sweetened with xylitol, a natural alcohol-based sugar that inhibits bacterial growth.
Last but not least, practice good oral hygiene with daily brushing and flossing, along with regular office cleanings and checkups. These practices, along with limits on refined sugar in your diet, will go a long way toward keeping your teeth and mouth healthy and cavity-free.
If you would like more information on the relationship of sugar and dental 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 “Nutrition & Oral Health.”
When he isn’t among the ten players vying for position on the basketball court, Cole Aldrich of the New York Knicks sometimes lets his dangle behind one ear. Mason Plumlee, who plays for the Brooklyn Nets, slips his snugly inside one of his socks during off times. Other players can be seen at timeouts gnawing on them nervously, or tucking them into spandex waistbands. But when the whistle blows, they go into the mouth before the players get on the court.
We’re talking about protective mouthguards, of course. According to a recent story in the New York Times, only a handful of basketball players wore them regularly a few years ago. Today, more and more are wearing them, both in practice and during games. What’s the reason for the change?
Partly, it’s the result of better design and improved construction; today’s mouthguards are more comfortable and better-fitting than ever. Part of it comes from mounting evidence that they work: Research studies have consistently demonstrated the benefits of wearing a mouthguard — not only to protect the teeth, but also to reduce the risk of concussion. And partly, it stems from the growing acceptance that safety is an important aspect of all athletic activity.
If the pros are doing it — shouldn’t you be too? While you may think that only contact sports (such as football) are risky, the fact is that “non-contact” sports like baseball and basketball account for the majority of dental injuries. In fact, the American Dental Association recommends you wear a mouthguard when you participate in activities like handball, soccer, surfing and weight lifting — as well as boxing, skydiving, martial arts and “extreme sports” — whatever that may mean to you.
What’s the best kind of mouthguard? It’s the one that you actually wear, of course! And the most comfortable and best-fitting mouthguard is the one that’s custom-made for you by your dentist. Sure, you can pick up an off-the-shelf mouthguard at a big box store; but it can’t offer you the same level of protection and comfort you’ll get from a mouthguard that is made from a model of your own teeth. Custom-made mouthguards from your dentist are reasonably priced — and by preventing dental trauma, they can save an untold amount of hurt… both to your body and to your pocketbook.
So take a tip from the pros: Get a custom-made mouthguard, and wear it every time you play. But when you’re done playing… how about putting it away in a case?
If you would like more information about custom-made athletic mouthguards, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can learn more by reading the Dear Doctor magazine articles “An Introduction to Sports Injuries & Dentistry” and “Athletic Mouthguards.”
This website includes materials that are protected by copyright, or other proprietary rights. Transmission or reproduction of protected items beyond that allowed by fair use, as defined in the copyright laws, requires the written permission of the copyright owners.