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.”
The classic movie Willie Wonka & the Chocolate Factory, starring Gene Wilder, still brings back sweet memories of childhood to people everywhere. Recently, the news broke that a remake of the beloved 1971 film is in now development in Hollywood. But at a reunion of the original cast members a few years ago, child star Denise Nickerson revealed that her role as gum-chewing Violet Beauregard caused a problem: she ended up with 13 cavities as a result of having to chew gum constantly during the filming!
It should come as no surprise that indulging in sugary treats can lead to cavities: The sugar in your diet feeds harmful bacteria that can cause tooth decay and other dental problems. Yet lots of kids (not to mention the child inside many adults) still crave the satisfaction that gum, candy and other sweets can bring. Is there any way to enjoy sweet treats and minimize the consequences to your oral health?
First, let’s point out that there are lots of healthy alternatives to sugary snacks. Fresh vegetables, fruits and cheeses are delicious options that are far healthier for you and your kids. Presenting a variety of appealing choices—like colorful cut-up carrots, bite-sized cheese bits and luscious-looking fruits and berries can make it easier (and more fun) to eat healthy foods. And getting kids off the sugar habit is a great way to help them avoid many health problems in the future.
For those who enjoy chewing gum, sugarless gum is a good option. In fact, chewing sugarless gum increases the flow of healthful saliva in the mouth, which can help neutralize the bacteria-produced acids that cause cavities. Gums that have the ADA (American Dental Association) Seal of Acceptance have passed clinical tests for safety and effectiveness.
But if you do allow sugary snacks, there are still a few ways to minimize the potential damage. Restrict the consumption of sweets to around mealtimes, so the mouth isn’t constantly inundated with sugar. Drink plenty of water to encourage saliva flow, and avoid sugary and acidic beverages like soda (even diet soda) and “sports” or “energy” drinks. Brush twice daily with fluoride toothpaste and floss once a day. And don’t forget to visit our office regularly for routine checkups and cleanings. It’s the best way to get a “golden ticket” to good oral health.
If you would like more information about sugar, cavities and oral health, please call our office to arrange a consultation. You can learn more in the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Nutrition & Oral Health” and “The Bitter Truth About Sugar.”
As the host of America's Funniest Home Videos on ABC TV, Alfonso Ribeiro has witnessed plenty of unintentional physical comedy…or, as he puts it in an interview with Dear Doctor–Dentistry & Oral Health magazine, "When people do stuff and you're like, 'Dude, you just hurt yourself for no reason!'" So when he had his own dental dilemma, Alfonso was determined not to let it turn onto an "epic fail."
The television personality was in his thirties when a painful tooth infection flared up. Instead of ignoring the problem, he took care of it by visiting his dentist, who recommended a root canal procedure. "It's not like you wake up and go, 'Yay, I'm going to have my root canal today!'" he joked. "But once it's done, you couldn't be happier because the pain is gone and you're just smiling because you're no longer in pain!"
Alfonso's experience echoes that of many other people. The root canal procedure is designed to save an infected tooth that otherwise would probably be lost. The infection may start when harmful bacteria from the mouth create a small hole (called a cavity) in the tooth's surface. If left untreated, the decay bacteria continue to eat away at the tooth's structure. Eventually, they can reach the soft pulp tissue, which extends through branching spaces deep inside the tooth called root canals.
Once infection gets a foothold there, it's time for root canal treatment! In this procedure, the area is first numbed; next, a small hole is made in the tooth to give access to the pulp, which contains nerves and blood vessels. The diseased tissue is then carefully removed with tiny instruments, and the canals are disinfected to prevent bacteria from spreading. Finally, the tooth is sealed up to prevent re-infection. Following treatment, a crown (cap) is usually required to restore the tooth's full function and appearance.
Root canal treatment sometimes gets a bad rap from people who are unfamiliar with it, or have come across misinformation on the internet. The truth is, a root canal doesn't cause pain: It relieves pain! The alternatives—having the tooth pulled or leaving the infection untreated—are often much worse.
Having a tooth extracted and replaced can be costly and time consuming…yet a missing tooth that isn't replaced can cause problems for your oral health, nutrition and self-esteem. And an untreated infection doesn't just go away on its own—it continues to smolder in your body, potentially causing serious problems. So if you need a root canal, don't delay!
If you would like additional information on root canal treatment, please contact us or schedule a consultation. You can learn more by reading the Dear Doctor magazine articles “A Step-By-Step Guide to Root Canal Treatment” and “Root Canal Treatment: What You Need to Know.”
You probably already know that using tobacco causes significant health risks: It increases your odds of getting various cancers and coronary diseases, to name just a few. Unfortunately, not everyone is able to kick the habit, even when they know they should. Tooth loss is another issue that can cause trouble for your health, in the form of bone loss, malnutrition, and social or psychological problems. Dental implants are a great way to replace missing teeth — but does smoking complicate the process of getting implants?
The short answer is yes, smoking can make implant placement a bit riskier — but in the big picture, it doesn’t mean you can’t (or shouldn’t) have this procedure done if it’s needed.
Smoking, as you know, has harmful effects in your mouth (even leaving aside the risk of oral cancer). The hot gases can burn the oral cavity and damage salivary glands. Nicotine in smoke reduces blood flow to the soft tissues, which can affect the immune response and slow the processes of healing. At the same time, smoking promotes the growth of disease-causing oral bacteria.
How does this affect dental implants? Essentially, smoking creates a higher risk that implants may not heal properly after they are placed, and makes them more likely to fail over time. Studies have shown that smokers have an implant failure rate that’s twice as great as non-smokers. Does this mean that if you smoke, you shouldn't consider implants to replace missing or failing teeth?
Not necessarily. On the whole, implants are the most successful method of replacing missing teeth. In fact, the overall long-term survival rate of implants for both smokers and non-smokers is well over 90 percent — meaning that only a small percentage don’t work as they should. This is where it’s important to get the expert opinion of an implant specialist, who can help you decide whether implants are right for your particular situation.
If you do smoke, is there anything you can do to better your odds for having a successful dental implant? Yes: quit now! (Implants are a good excuse to start a smoking-cessation program.) But if you can’t, at least stop smoking for one week before and two weeks after implant placement. And if that is not possible, at least go on a smoking diet: restrict the number of cigarettes you smoke by 50% (we know you can at least do that!) Try to follow good oral hygiene practices at all times, and see your dentist regularly for checkups and cleanings.
When you awake in the morning do you still feel exhausted? Are you irritable during the day, unable to think or focus clearly? Is your loud snoring bothering your bed partner?
If you answered affirmatively to any of these questions, you may have sleep apnea. This happens when an obstruction (usually the tongue) blocks the airway during sleep, preventing you from breathing. Your brain notices the drop in oxygen and wakes you to re-open the airway. The arousal lasts only a few seconds, and you may not even notice. But because it can happen many times a night, these waking episodes can rob you of the deep sleep your body needs.
Sleep apnea is more serious than simply waking up grumpy. Over time, it could contribute to dangerous health conditions like high blood pressure or heart disease. If you’re noticing any of these signs, it’s important then that you undergo a complete examination by a physician or dentist trained in sleep-related issues.
Fortunately, there are ways to reduce sleep apnea. One of the most common is continuous airway pressure (CPAP): This method uses a small pump that pushes pressurized air through a face mask worn while the patient sleeps. The forced air keeps the airway open and reduces apnea episodes.
While it’s an effective method, it can be uncomfortable and cumbersome to use—some people can’t tolerate wearing the mask while they sleep. But if your sleep apnea symptoms are mild to moderate, your dentist may be able to provide an alternative therapy with a specially designed oral appliance.
Similar to a mouthguard or retainer, a sleep apnea appliance worn during sleep holds the lower jaw forward, which helps move the tongue away from the airway. It’s much less cumbersome (and noisy) than a CPAP machine. And your dentist can custom design and fabricate your appliance for a comfortable fit.
Not all cases of sleep apnea can benefit from such an appliance, or even from CPAP therapy. Extreme cases could require surgery to remove tissues blocking the airway. But most sleep apnea patients don’t require this invasive intervention. Getting checked by a qualified medical professional could open the door to a more convenient and effective way to a better night’s sleep.
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