Say “bacteria,” especially in the same sentence with “disease” or “infection,” and you may trigger an immediate stampede for the hand sanitizer. The last thing most people want is to come in contact with these “menacing” microorganisms.
If that describes you, however, you’re too late. If you’re of adult age, there are already 100 trillion of these single-celled organisms in and on your body, outnumbering your own cells 10 to 1. But don’t panic: Of these 10,000-plus species only a handful can cause you harm—most are either harmless or beneficial, including in your mouth.
Thanks to recent research, we know quite a bit about the different kinds of bacteria in the mouth and what they’re doing. We’ve also learned that the mouth’s microbiome (the interactive environment of microscopic organisms in a particular location) develops over time, especially during our formative years. New mothers, for example, pass on hundreds of beneficial species of bacteria to their babies via their breast milk.
As our exposure to different bacteria grows, our immune system is also developing—not only fighting bacteria that pose a threat, but also learning to recognize benevolent species. All these factors over time result in a sophisticated, interrelated bacterial environment unique to every individual.
Of course, it isn’t all sweetness and light in this microscopic world. The few harmful oral bacteria, especially those that trigger tooth decay or periodontal (gum) disease, can cause enormous, irreparable damage to the teeth and gums. It’s our goal as dentists to treat these diseases and, when necessary, fight against harmful microorganisms with antibacterial agents and antibiotics.
But our growing knowledge of this “secret world” of bacteria is now influencing how we approach dental treatment. A generalized application of antibiotics, for example, could harm beneficial bacteria as well as harmful ones. In trying to do good we may run the risk of disrupting the mouth’s microbiome balance—with adverse results on a patient’s long-term oral health.
The treatment strategies of the future will take this into account. While stopping dental disease will remain the top priority, the treatments of the future will seek to do it without harming the delicate balance of the mouth’s microbiome.
If you would like more information on the role of bacteria in oral health, 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 “New Research Show Bacteria Essential to Health.”
Is having good oral hygiene important to kissing? Who's better to answer that question than Vivica A. Fox? Among her other achievements, the versatile actress won the “Best Kiss” honor at the MTV Movie Awards, for a memorable scene with Will Smith in the 1996 blockbuster Independence Day. When Dear Doctor magazine asked her, Ms. Fox said that proper oral hygiene was indeed essential. Actually, she said:
"Ooooh, yes, yes, yes, Honey, 'cause Baby, if you kiss somebody with a dragon mouth, my God, it's the worst experience ever as an actor to try to act like you enjoy it!"
And even if you're not on stage, it's no fun to kiss someone whose oral hygiene isn't what it should be. So what's the best way to step up your game? Here's how Vivica does it:
“I visit my dentist every three months and get my teeth cleaned, I floss, I brush, I just spent two hundred bucks on an electronic toothbrush — I'm into dental hygiene for sure.”
Well, we might add that you don't need to spend tons of money on a toothbrush — after all, it's not the brush that keeps your mouth healthy, but the hand that holds it. And not everyone needs to come in as often every three months. But her tips are generally right on.
For proper at-home oral care, nothing beats brushing twice a day for two minutes each time, and flossing once a day. Brushing removes the sticky, bacteria-laden plaque that clings to your teeth and causes tooth decay and gum disease — not to mention malodorous breath. Don't forget to brush your tongue as well — it can also harbor those bad-breath bacteria.
While brushing is effective, it can't reach the tiny spaces in between teeth and under gums where plaque bacteria can hide. But floss can: That's what makes it so important to getting your mouth really clean.
Finally, regular professional checkups and cleanings are an essential part of good oral hygiene. Why? Because even the most dutiful brushing and flossing can't remove the hardened coating called tartar that eventually forms on tooth surfaces. Only a trained health care provider with the right dental tools can! And when you come in for a routine office visit, you'll also get a thorough checkup that can detect tooth decay, gum disease, and other threats to your oral health.
Bad breath isn't just a turn-off for kissing — It can indicate a possible problem in your mouth. So listen to what award-winning kisser Vivica Fox says: Paying attention to your oral hygiene can really pay off! For more information, contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can read the entire interview with Vivica A. Fox in Dear Doctor's latest issue.
Your child's permanent teeth come in gradually, starting just as they begin losing their primary ("baby") teeth and not ending until late adolescence or early adulthood. That's when the third molars or "wisdom teeth" close out the process.
Because of their late arrival, wisdom teeth have a high potential for dental problems. With a greater chance of crowding or obstruction by other teeth, wisdom teeth often get stuck fully or partially below the gums and bone (impaction) or erupt out of position. In one study, 7 in 10 people between the ages of 20 and 30 will have at least one impacted wisdom tooth at some time in their lives.
It's not surprising then that wisdom teeth are among the most extracted teeth, to the tune of about 10 million per year. Besides those already diseased or causing bite problems, many are removed preemptively in an attempt to avoid future problems.
But wisdom teeth usually require surgical extraction by an oral surgeon, which is much more involved than a simple extraction by a general dentist. Given the potential consequences of surgical extraction, is it really necessary to remove a wisdom tooth not creating immediate problems?
That's not an easy question to answer because it's often difficult to predict a wisdom tooth's developmental track. Early on it can be disease-free and not causing any problems to other teeth. But as some researchers have found, one in three wisdom teeth at this stage will later develop disease or create other issues.
For many dentists, the best approach is to consider extraction on a case by case basis. Those displaying definite signs of problems are prime for removal. But where there are no signs of disease or other issues, the more prudent action may be to keep a watchful eye on their development and decide on extraction at some later date.
More than likely, your dentist will continue to have an ongoing discussion with you about the state of your child's wisdom teeth. While extraction is always an option, wisdom teeth that aren't yet a problem to dental health may be best left alone.
Braces are a common experience among teens and pre-teens. And although the treatment can be a major financial undertaking, more and more families pursue it to help their child attain a straighter, more attractive smile.
But orthodontics isn’t first and foremost a cosmetic treatment. Although an improved appearance is a benefit, the main reason for treatment is therapeutic—it can improve your child’s current and future dental health.
The teeth’s relationship to the jaws and gums makes moving them possible. Rather than simply being fixed within their jawbone socket, teeth are actually held in place by a strong, elastic tissue called the periodontal ligament. The ligament lies between the teeth and jawbone and attaches to both with tiny extending fibers. This attachment secures the teeth in place.
But the ligament also has a dynamic quality—it can reshape itself when necessary and allow teeth to move gradually into new positions. This is most necessary during the early years of mouth and jaw development, but it can also occur throughout life. Orthodontics takes advantage of this mechanism by applying precise pressure to the teeth in the direction of desired movement. The periodontal ligament does the rest by reshaping and allowing the teeth to move in response to this pressure.
The result is straighter teeth and a more normal bite. With the teeth now where they should be, it’s also easier to clean them of disease-causing dental plaque, whereas misaligned teeth are more prone to plaque accumulation that can be difficult to remove. And because the whole mouth including teeth are involved when we talk, teeth positioned in a more normal bite will improve speech.
Orthodontics is a long-term process, often encompassing more than the actual time wearing braces. Both orthodontists and pediatric dentists recommend a bite evaluation by an orthodontist around the age of 6. If it does appear an abnormal bite is forming, it may be possible to intervene and stop or at least slow the development. This could have a more positive impact on any future treatment.
Braces and other treatments can make a difference in your child’s self-image and social relationships. But the main beneficiary will be their dental health.
If you would like more information on orthodontic treatment, 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 “Moving Teeth With Orthodontics.”
Although periodontal (gum) disease starts with the gums, the teeth may ultimately suffer. An infection can damage the gum attachment and supporting bone to the point that an affected tooth could be lost.
The main cause for gum disease is dental plaque, a bacterial biofilm that accumulates on teeth due to ineffective oral hygiene. But there can be other contributing factors that make you more susceptible to an infection. Smoking tobacco is one of the most harmful as more than half of smokers develop gum disease at some point in their life. If you’re a heavy smoker, you have double the risk of gum disease than a non-smoker.
There are several reasons why smoking increases the risk of gum disease. For one, smoking reduces the body’s production of antibodies. This diminishes the body’s ability to fight oral infections and aid healing. As a smoker, your body can’t respond adequately enough to the rapid spread of a gum infection.
Another reason for the increased risk with smoking are the chemicals in tobacco that damage the connectivity of gum tissues to teeth that keep them anchored in place. The heavier the smoking habit, the worse this particular damage is to the gums. This can accelerate the disease and make it more likely you’ll lose affected teeth.
Smoking can also interfere with getting a prompt diagnosis of gum disease because the nicotine in tobacco reduces the blood supply to the gums. Usually a person with an infection may first notice their gums are reddened or swollen, and bleed easily. Smoking, however, can give a false impression of health because it prevents the infected gum tissues from becoming swollen and are less likely to bleed. As a result, you may learn you have the disease much later rather than sooner, allowing the infection to inflict more damage.
There are ways to reduce your disease risk if you smoke. The top way: Kick the smoking habit. With time, the effects of smoking on your mouth and body will diminish, and you’ll be better able to fight infection.
You should also practice daily brushing and flossing to keep plaque at bay, followed by regular dental cleanings to remove hard to reach plaque and calculus (tartar) deposits. You should also see your dentist at the first sign of trouble with your gums.
If you would like more information on the prevention and treatment of gum 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 “Smoking and Gum Disease.”
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