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.
When you floss (you do floss, right?), you probably notice a sticky, yellowish substance called plaque stuck to the thread. This thin film of tiny food particles and bacteria is the reason you floss and brush in the first place: Because it's the main trigger for tooth decay and gum disease, removing it decreases your risk for disease.
But this isn't the only form of plaque you should be concerned about. That same sticky substance can also interact with your saliva and harden into what's commonly known as tartar. Dentists, however, have a different term: They refer to these calcified deposits as calculus. And it's just as much a source of disease as its softer counterpart.
You might have noticed that this form of plaque has the same name as an advanced type of mathematics. Although dental calculus has little in common with algebra's cousin, both terms trace their origins back to the same linguistic source. The word “calculus” in Latin means “small stone;” it became associated with math because stone pebbles were once used by merchants long ago to calculate sales and trades.
The term became associated with the substance on your teeth because the hardened plaque deposits resemble tiny stones or minerals—and they can be “as hard as a rock” to remove. In fact, because they adhere so firmly it's virtually impossible to remove calculus deposits with brushing or flossing alone. To effectively eliminate calculus from tooth surfaces (including under the gum line) requires the skills and special dental tools of dentists or dental hygienists.
That's why we recommend a minimum of two dental cleanings a year to remove any calculus buildup, as well as any pre-calcified plaque you might have missed with daily hygiene. Reducing both plaque and calculus on your teeth fully minimizes your risk of dental disease. What's more, removing the yellowish substance may also brighten your smile.
That's not to say daily brushing and flossing aren't important. By removing the bulk of plaque buildup, you reduce the amount that eventually becomes calculus. In other words, it takes both a daily oral hygiene practice and regular dental visits to keep your teeth healthy and beautiful.
Sometimes, looking at old pictures can really bring memories back to life. Just ask Stefani Germanotta—the pop diva better known as Lady Gaga. In one scene from the recent documentary Five Foot Two, as family members sort through headshots from her teen years, her father proclaims: "Here, this proves she had braces!"
"If I had kept that gap, then I would have even more problems with Madonna," Lady Gaga replies, referencing an ongoing feud between the two musical celebrities.
The photos of Gaga's teenage smile reveal that the singer of hits like "Born This Way" once had a noticeable gap (which dentists call a diastema) between her front teeth. This condition is common in children, but often becomes less conspicuous with age. It isn't necessarily a problem: Lots of well-known people have extra space in their smiles, including ex-football player and TV host Michael Strahan, actress Anna Paquin…and fellow pop superstar Madonna. It hasn't hurt any of their careers.
Yet others would prefer a smile without the gap. Fortunately, diastema in children is generally not difficult to fix. One of the easiest ways to do so is with traditional braces or clear aligners. These orthodontic appliances, usually worn for a period of months, can actually move the teeth into positions that look more pleasing in the smile and function better in the bite. For many people, orthodontic treatment is a part of their emergence from adolescence into adulthood.
Braces and aligners, along with other specialized orthodontic appliances, can also remedy many bite problems besides diastema. They can correct misaligned teeth and spacing irregularities, fix overbites and underbites, and take care of numerous other types of malocclusions (bite problems).
The American Association of Orthodontists recommends that kids get screened for orthodontic problems at age 7. Even if an issue is found, most won't get treatment at this age—but in some instances, it's possible that early intervention can save a great deal of time, money and effort later. For example, while the jaw is still developing, its growth can be guided with special appliances that can make future orthodontic treatment go quicker and easier.
Yet orthodontics isn't just for children—adults can wear braces too! As long as teeth and gums are healthy, there's no upper age limit on orthodontic treatment. Instead of traditional silver braces, many adults choose tooth-colored braces or clear aligners to complement their more professional appearance.
So if your child is at the age where screening is recommended—or if you're unhappy with your own smile—ask us whether orthodontics could help. But if you get into a rivalry with Madonna…you're on your own.
If you have questions about orthodontic treatment, please contact our office or schedule a consultation. You can read more in the Dear Doctor magazine articles “The Magic of Orthodontics” and “Orthodontics For The Older Adult.”
Tooth decay is more prevalent than diseases like cancer, heart disease or influenza. It doesn't have to be—brushing with fluoride toothpaste, flossing, less dietary sugar and regular dental cleanings can lower the risk of this harmful disease.
Hygiene, diet and dental care work because they interrupt the disease process at various points. Daily hygiene and regular dental cleanings remove dental plaque where oral bacteria flourish. Reducing sugar eliminates one of bacteria's feeding sources. With less bacteria, there's less oral acid to erode enamel.
But as good as these methods work, we can now take the fight against tooth decay a step further. We can formulate a prevention strategy tailored to an individual patient that addresses risk factors for decay unique to them.
Poor saliva flow. One of the more important functions of this bodily fluid is to neutralize mouth acid produced by bacteria and released from food during eating. Saliva helps restore the mouth's ideal pH balance needed for optimum oral health. But if you have poor saliva flow, often because of medications, your mouth could be more acidic and thus more prone to decay.
Biofilm imbalance. The inside of your mouth is coated with an ultrathin biofilm made up of proteins, biochemicals and microorganisms. Normally, both beneficial and harmful bacteria reside together with the “good” bacteria having the edge. If the mouth becomes more acidic long-term, however, even the beneficial bacteria adapt and become more like their harmful counterparts.
Genetic factors. Researchers estimate that 40 to 50 hereditary genes can impact cavity development. Some of these genes could impact tooth formation or saliva gland anatomy, while others drive behaviors like a higher craving for sugar. A family history of tooth decay, especially when regular hygiene habits or diet don't seem to be a factor, could be an indicator that genes are influencing a person's dental health.
To determine if these or other factors could be driving a patient's higher risk for tooth decay, many dentists are now gathering more information about medications, family history or lifestyle habits. Using that information, they can introduce other measures for each patient that will lower their risk for tooth decay even more.
If you would like more information on reducing your risk of tooth decay, 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 “What Everyone Should Know About Tooth Decay.”
Losing your teeth can be a traumatic experience with serious consequences for your overall health. Fortunately, you have great options for replacing lost teeth that can restore both appearance and dental function.
One such option is a fixed bridge supported by dental implants. While implants are best known for single tooth replacement, they can also be used with other restorations like bridges. In this case, the bridge is screwed into a few well-placed implants to support it.
Implants can provide bridges with more security and support, and without the need to alter adjacent teeth that are commonly used for traditional tooth replacement. They may also slow or stop bone loss because the titanium in implants naturally attracts bone cells that grow and adhere to its surface and provide stimulation to the bone cells during function.
Because of these benefits an implant-supported bridge could be a life-changer that provides years of satisfaction. But we can’t simply “set them and forget them”: They require dedicated oral hygiene just like natural teeth.
While the bridge materials and implants themselves are in no danger from disease, the same can’t be said for the implant’s supporting gums and bone. Dental plaque, the main driver in gum disease, can place these tissues at risk for infection that could eventually lead to implant failure.
It’s important, then, for you to floss around your new implants to remove any plaque. This differs from regular flossing in which you work the thread between teeth. Instead, you’ll have to maneuver the floss between the bridge and gums with the help of a floss threader, a small slender tool with a loop at one end and a stiffer plastic edge at the other (similar to a sewing needle).
To use it, first run 18” of floss through the loop until you get equal lengths and then work the tail of the floss threader between the bridge and gums while holding one end of the floss. Once through, you pull the floss threader through so that the floss is on either side of the bridge. Then grab each end of the floss and pull it snug to floss up and down one side of the implant. Go to the next side and repeat this procedure for all the implants.
As an alternative, you could use an oral irrigator, which emits a pulsating spray of water to loosen and wash away plaque. Either way, though, it’s important to floss around implants to get the most life out of your bridge.
If you would like more information on proper care for implant-supported restorations, 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 “Oral Hygiene for Fixed Bridgework.”
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