If you know anything about dental disease, then you know bacteria ranks high on the Usual Suspects list. Tooth decay gets its start from acid produced by bacteria; periodontal (gum) disease is often triggered by bacteria that infect the gums.
But the particular strains of bacteria that can cause dental disease are a small percentage of the 10,000-plus species inhabiting your mouth. The rest, numbering in the millions, are fairly benign—and some, as recent research is now showing, play a sizeable role in protecting your teeth and gums against other malicious bacteria, fungi and viruses.
Dr. Aaron Weinberg, a dental researcher at Case Western Reserve University, has been investigating these protective bacteria for many years. His research began with a scientific conundrum: although the mouth has one of the highest densities of bacterial populations, wounds in the mouth tend to heal quickly.
The answer, he believes, originates with human beta defensins (hBDs), substances produced by cells in the lining of the mouth that are natural antibiotics against disease. He has found that certain bacteria actually help stimulate their production.
This isn't just an interesting fact about the body's defenses and immune system. During his research, Dr. Weinberg was able to identify the agent within the bacteria that triggered hBD production. This has opened up a new line of research: The possibility that harnessing this agent might help assist in our treatment of infection by boosting the body's defensive capabilities.
For example, researchers have proposed including a form of the agent in toothpaste. Over time, this might stimulate hBD production and guard the mouth against the development of dental diseases like gum disease.
These possibilities all come from our increasing knowledge and understanding of the microscopic world around us, especially in our mouths. Bacteria are much more complex than we may have realized—not all are our enemies, and some are definitely our friends. Learning more may open up new ways to keep our teeth and gums healthy.
Teeth grinding and other biting habits are more than a nuisance — they can generate twenty to thirty times the forces of normal biting. Over the long term, this can cause significant damage to teeth and supporting gums and bone.
This particular kind of damage is known as occlusal trauma (meaning injury from the bite). In its primary form, the habit itself over time can injure and inflame the jaw joints leading to soreness, swelling and dysfunction. The teeth themselves can wear down at a much faster rate than what normally occurs with aging. And although less common but even more serious, the periodontal ligaments holding teeth in place to the bone can stretch and weaken, causing the teeth to become loose and increasing the potential for tooth loss.
There are a number of techniques and approaches for treating excessive biting habits, but they all have a common aim — to reduce the amount of force generated by the habit and the associated problems that result. A custom occlusal guard, often worn while sleeping, helps lessen the force by keeping the teeth from making solid contact with each other. Tissue soreness and swelling can be relieved with anti-inflammatory drugs like aspirin or ibuprofen, muscle relaxants or physical therapy. In cases where stress is a main driver, behavioral therapy and counseling may also be helpful.
Biting forces are also an issue for patients with periodontal (gum) disease. In this case even biting forces within normal ranges can cause damage because the diseased gums and bone have already been weakened. If gum disease is a factor, the first priority is to treat the disease by removing built up plaque. Plaque is the thin film of bacteria and food remnant that’s both the cause and continuing growth of the infection, as well as tartar (calculus) from all tooth and gum surfaces.
A thorough dental exam will reveal whether a tooth grinding habit is playing a role in your teeth and gum problems or if it’s magnifying the damage of gum disease. In either case, there are appropriate steps to stop the damage before it leads to tooth loss.
If you would like more information on teeth grinding or other biting 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 “Loose Teeth.”
Think no one is looking at your smile when you’re out in public? Nick Jonas’ recent experience might convince you otherwise. While the Jonas Brothers were performing during the 2020 Grammys, fans watching on television picked up on some dark matter between his teeth.
To say Twitter lit up is an understatement. For many, it was that thing you couldn’t unsee: Forget the performance, what was that between his teeth? Jonas later fessed up by tweeting, “…At least you all know I eat my greens.”
We’re sure Nick and his brothers take care of their teeth, as most any high-profile entertainer would. You can probably attribute his dental faux pas to trying to squeeze in some nourishment during a rushed performance schedule.
Still, the Grammy incident (Spinachgate?) shows that people do notice when your teeth aren’t as clean as they should be. To avoid that embarrassment, here are some handy tips for keeping your teeth looking their best while you’re on the go.
Start with a clean mouth. You’re more apt to collect food debris during the day if you have built-up plaque on your teeth. This sticky bacterial biofilm attracts new food particles like a magnet. Remove plaque by thoroughly brushing and flossing before you head out the door.
Rinse after eating. Although your saliva helps clear leftover food from your mouth, it may not adequately flush away all the debris. You can assist this process by swishing and rinsing with clean water after a meal.
Keep a little floss handy. Even after rinsing, stubborn bits of food can remain lodged between teeth. So just in case, keep a small bit of emergency floss (or a floss pick) in your purse or wallet to remove any debris you see or feel between your teeth.
Watch what you eat. Some foods—like popcorn, sticky snacks or fibrous vegetables—are notorious for sticking in teeth. Try to avoid eating these foods right before a public appearance where your smile may be critical.
And here’s an added bonus: Not only will these tips help keep your smile attractive on the go, they’ll also help keep it healthy. Rinsing with water, for example, helps lower your mouth’s acid level after eating, a prime factor in tooth decay. And flossing, both as a regular practice and for occasional stuck food, decreases plaque and subsequently your risk of tooth decay and gum disease.
Remember, a healthy mouth is the starting place for a beautiful smile. Keep it that way with dedicated hygiene habits at home or on the go.
Not long ago the dental bridge was the alternative treatment of choice to partial dentures for restoring lost teeth. Over the last few decades, however, dental implants have nudged bridgework out of this premier spot.
That doesn’t mean, though, that bridgework has gone the way of the horse and buggy. In fact, it may still be a solid restorative alternative to partial dentures for certain people.
A traditional bridge consists of a series of porcelain crowns affixed to each other like pickets in a fence. The end crowns are fitted onto the teeth on either side of the empty tooth space; known as abutment teeth, they support the bridge. The crowns in the middle, known as pontics (from the French for “bridge”), replace the teeth that have been lost.
Bridges have been an effective and cosmetically pleasing method for tooth replacement for nearly a century. To achieve those results, though, a good portion of the abutment teeth’s structure must be removed to accommodate the crowns. This permanently alters these teeth, so they’ll require a restoration from that point on.
Dental implants, on the other hand, can be installed in the missing space without impacting any neighboring teeth. What’s more, implants provide greater support to the underlying bone than can be achieved with bridgework.
But not everyone is a viable candidate for implants, and ironically the reason most often has to do with the bone. If a patient has suffered significant bone volume loss, either because of disease or the long-term absence of the natural teeth, there may not be enough bone to properly support an implant. Unless we can adequately restore this lost bone volume through grafting, we’ll need to consider another type of restoration.
That’s where bridgework could be a viable option for patients in this or similar situations. With continuing advances in materials and new applications, the traditional bridge still remains an effective and important means to restore a smile marred by missing teeth.
If you would like more information on dental restoration options, 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 “Crowns & Bridgework.”
Vaping, the use of an electronic cigarette or E-cigarette, has exploded in popularity over the last few years. But although touted by proponents as a cleaner and healthier alternative to smoking, vaping has also gained recent notoriety with the rise of lung injuries and even deaths linked to the practice.
But long before these headlines of late, dentists were sounding the alarm about vaping in regard to oral health. There are a number of elements associated with vaping that can make it as hazardous to your teeth and gums as traditional smoking.
Nicotine. While vaping and smoking are different in many ways, they do share one commonality: They both deliver nicotine through the lungs into the bloodstream. Nicotine in turn can constrict blood vessels, including those in the mouth. This restricts the delivery of nutrients and disease-fighting agents to the teeth and gums, increasing the risk of tooth decay and gum disease.
Flavorings. One of the big appeals of vaping, especially with young people, is the availability of various flavorings. But while they may have cool names like “cotton candy” or “cherry crush,” the additives themselves and the compounds they create in the mouth can irritate and inflame oral membranes. They may also diminish enamel hardness, which dramatically increases tooth decay risk.
Mouth dryness. The vapor produced by an E-cigarette is an aerosol: Many of the solid particles for the various ingredients in the vaping solution are suspended within the vapor. The combination of all these chemicals and compounds can lead to mouth dryness. Not only can this cause an unpleasant feeling, it creates an environment favorable to bacteria that contribute to dental disease.
For the good of both your general and oral health, it's best to avoid vaping. The risks it may pose to your teeth and gums far outweigh any proposed benefits over smoking. The best course if you're a smoker wanting a healthier lifestyle, including for your mouth, is to undergo a medically-supervised tobacco cessation program to quit the habit. That's a far better way than vaping to protect your general and oral health.
If you would like more information on the oral hazards of E-cigarettes, 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 “Vaping and Oral Health.”
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