What a difference a hundred years can make—especially the last one hundred. In the early 20th Century, trains were the prime mode of cross-country transportation, electrical power was not universally available, and only the well-to-do could afford automobiles and telephones. We live in a far different world, transformed by digital media, air travel and instantaneous global communication.
Dental care has also made exponential leaps. Dentists in the early 21st Century have more effective and powerful treatments for disease, as well as life-like and durable restorations for missing teeth and less-than-perfect smiles. As far as dentistry goes, you couldn't live in a better time.
But if you thought the last century was amazing for dental care, you won't believe what may soon be coming your way this century. Here are a few of the incredible possibilities poised to become reality in the near future.
Regenerating teeth. As of now, the permanent teeth you have is all you're going to have—but that may soon change. Researchers are closing in on the ability to grow new dentin—and if that becomes practical, other parts of teeth may be next. Utilizing a person's stem cells, the building blocks of specialized human tissue, may yield the greatest prize of all, a completely regenerated tooth.
Targeting bacteria. Tooth decay and other dental diseases are most often caused by bacteria—but not every strain. The true culprits are a select few like Streptococcus mutans, which causes tooth decay. Based on growing knowledge of the human genome, we may one day be able to develop therapies that block transmission of specific bacteria from caregivers to infants, or inhibit these bacteria's ability to produce acid that erodes tooth enamel.
Employing “nano” tools. Nanotechnology tools and devices are no bigger than 100 nanometers (a nanometer is a one billionth of a meter), and perform tasks on the cellular level. Many researchers believe we may soon develop a device of this size that can seek out and destroy tiny clusters of cancer cells within the human body before they spread. This could be a game-changer for treating deadly oral cancer.
The current state of dental care would have amazed our great-grandparents. But we may soon be just as amazed at what 21st Century brings us.
E-cigarettes have taken the world by storm, especially among younger adults. The reason: the widespread perception that “vaping” is healthier than smoking tobacco.
But a deeper look at this wildly popular habit reveals a product that doesn't live up to its reputation as smoking's “safer alternative.” One aspect of health that's especially in harm's way is the mouth: Teeth and gums could in fact be just as prone to disease with an e-cigarette as the tobacco variety.
E-cigarettes are handheld devices that hold a cartridge of liquid vaping product, which is then heated to produce an inhalable vapor. Technically, it's an aerosol in which solid chemical compounds within the vaping liquid are suspended in the vapor. The aerosolized vapor thus serves as a transporting medium for these chemicals to enter the user's body.
It's these various chemicals inhaled during vaping that most concern dentists. Top on the list: nicotine, the addictive chemical also found in regular tobacco. Among its other effects, nicotine constricts blood vessels in the mouth, causing less blood flow of nutrients and infection-fighting cells to the gums and teeth. This not only heightens the risk for gum disease, but may also mask initial infection symptoms like swelling or redness.
Flavorings, a popular feature of vaping solutions, may also contribute to oral problems. These substances can form new chemical compounds during the vaping process that can irritate the mouth's inner membranes and trigger inflammation. There's also evidence that e-cigarette flavorings, particularly menthol, might soften enamel and increase the risk of tooth decay.
Other chemicals commonly found in vaping solutions are thought to increase plaque formation, the sticky film on teeth that is a major cause for dental disease. And known carcinogens like formaldehyde, also included in many formulations, raise the specter of oral cancer.
These are just a few of the possible ways vaping may damage oral health. Far from a safe tobacco alternative, there's reason to believe it could be just as harmful. The wise choice for your body and your mouth is not to smoke—or vape.
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.”
Officially, Labor Day honors the contributions of America's working men and women. Unofficially, the long holiday weekend in early September marks the end of the laid-back summer season. The day after, Americans snap back to the business, and busyness, of life. Post-Labor Day may also be an opportune time to revitalize another kind of business: taking care of your family's oral health.
Here are a few ways to refocus on healthier teeth and gums as you and yours return to regular work, school or household routines after this last summer holiday.
Make oral hygiene a daily thing. The single best thing anyone can do to maintain good dental health is to brush and floss every day. Diligently performing these tasks prevents the buildup of dental plaque, a thin bacterial film most responsible for dental disease. Twice-a-year dental cleanings round out routine dental care and help minimize your family's risk of tooth decay and gum disease.
Restrict sugar in your family's diet. Diets high in sugar increase the risk of tooth decay. That's because the oral bacteria that cause dental disease thrive on this popular carbohydrate. So, if your summer vacation included lots of sweet treats, tighten up your family's sugar intake to the equivalent (or less) of 6-9 teaspoonfuls per day. Instead, focus on foods rich in calcium and other tooth-strengthening nutrients.
Treat emerging dental problems. Even with the best hygiene and dietary practices, none of us is completely immune from dental disease. Regular dental visits should bring to light any threats brewing against your teeth and gums. In between, though, if you or a family member notices tooth pain, swollen or bleeding gums, or other abnormal signs in the mouth, don't put off getting checked. The sooner a dental problem is treated, the less teeth and gum damage—and treatment expense—it will cause.
Pursue a smile makeover. Do you or someone you love want a new smile? Or perhaps just a tweak to your current smile? There are amazing cosmetic dental techniques available, from simple teeth whitening to dental implants for missing teeth, that could completely transform your smile appearance. And don't let age discourage you: As long as a person is in reasonably good health with no prohibitive dental conditions, they can undergo most cosmetic procedures—including orthodontics—well into adulthood.
With vacations from work winding down and school gearing up, it takes no time at all to return to a hectic pace. Just be sure to carve out some time for optimizing oral health and appearance. Even a little effort can make a lifetime of difference.
If you would like more information on enhancing your dental health and smile appearance, please contact us or schedule a consultation.
This year's Carol Burnett Award, presented at the Golden Globes, goes to Ellen DeGeneres for her “outstanding contributions to the television medium on or off the screen.” This is the latest in a long list of honors for the comedienne, talk show host and activist that includes Emmys, Grammys and Teen Choice Awards. And one not quite as well-known: a 2004 “Flossy” award.
DeGeneres received this honor from the National Flossing Council in recognition of her passionate promotion of oral hygiene, particularly flossing. She wrote about its virtues in her 2003 book, The Funny Thing Is…., saying, among other things, “Don't even think for a second that you can get away with not flossing.”
DeGeneres's motivational cheerleading for flossing is helpful and necessary because, well, many of us just don't like doing it. It requires more manual dexterity than its more popular sibling, brushing. And the tendency for the floss to gunk up with plaque residue for some is simply unpleasant.
Mainly, though, many folks think brushing is enough. Not so fast, according to dental professionals. While brushing removes disease-causing bacterial plaque from broad tooth surfaces, it can't effectively get into the spaces between teeth. It takes flossing to clear plaque from these more difficult areas.
But don't fret: There are ways to make flossing an easier—and more pleasant—task.
Ask us for help. As we said before, flossing does take some hand dexterity and coordination to perform. You may also wonder if you're doing it effectively. We can provide training and tips on how to be a more effective flosser at your next visit.
Practice, practice, practice. You probably think nothing of riding a bicycle, and yet it probably took you weeks or months as a kid to become proficient. Similarly, your first attempts at flossing might feel awkward, but you'll improve with practice, so don't give up.
Brush before you floss. Most people floss before brushing, but if you tend to encounter a lot of soft plaque debris that makes flossing “icky” for you, then try brushing first to clear a good portion of it out of the way before you floss. Just be aware, most professionals believe that flossing first is better because it loosens up debris between teeth so the bubbles from the toothpaste can carry it away. But any flossing is better than no flossing!
Try flossing tools. For some people, floss picks, small pre-threaded tools you can use with one hand, seem easier to maneuver than regular floss thread. If you have issues with manual dexterity, an oral irrigator can make the task easier: This handheld device uses a stream of pressurized water to loosen and flush away plaque between teeth.
So, follow Ellen DeGeneres's advice she gave Tulane University graduates during a commencement speech: “Remember to exfoliate, moisturize, exercise…and floss.” The latter, along with brushing, will certainly help keep your teeth and gums healthy.
Each year, millions of children and teenagers wear braces or clear aligners to straighten a crooked smile. But there may be a way to treat some of these bite problems and avoid braces—by intercepting the problem at an earlier age.
This can often be done if the bite problem stems from abnormal jaw development rather than misaligned teeth. An example of this occurs when the upper jaw growth outpaces the lower jaw, causing the upper teeth to protrude beyond the lower teeth. Aside from the effect on appearance, protruding front upper teeth may extend beyond the protection of the lip and be more prone to injury.
A device called a Herbst appliance could prevent this from happening. The top of the device has two hinged metal tubes that connect to elastic bands bonded to the back teeth on both sides of the upper jaw. The bottom also has tubes affixed in the same way to the bottom teeth, except they're slightly smaller and fit within the upper tubes.
The lower tubes sliding within the upper tubes produces slight pressure against the lower jaw to ease it forward. This gradually influences the lower jaw to grow at a pace equal with the upper jaw to decrease the chances of poor bite development. Unlike other corrective methods, the Herbst appliance fixed in place and out of the way won't interfere with sports or other physical activities.
An installed Herbst appliance may change a patient's sensations during swallowing, eating or speaking, but most children adapt to the changes within a few days. And, because the device can create challenges for keeping the back teeth clean, many dentists recommend adding a fluoride rinse to daily brushing and flossing as an added boost against tooth decay.
The Herbst appliance is most effective during the period of most rapid physical growth between the ages of 11 and 14, but if the teeth are already beginning to protrude it can be undertaken as early as 8 or 9. Either way, this important orthodontic tool could help address a complicated bite problem and reduce the need for more costly orthodontic treatment later on.
If you would like more information on early interventions for poor bites, 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 Herbst Appliance.”
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