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.
The month of May blossoms annually with commencement ceremonies honoring students graduating from high schools, colleges and universities. For each graduate, the occasion represents a major milestone along their road to adulthood. It's also an appropriate time to assess their dental development.
Although our teeth and gums continue to change as we age, the greatest change occurs during the first two decades of life. In that time, humans gain one set of teeth, lose it, and then gain another in relatively rapid succession. The new permanent teeth continue to mature, as do the jaws, up through the time many are graduating from college.
Of course, you don't have to be in the process of receiving a diploma to “graduate” from adolescent to adult. If you are in that season, here are a few things regarding your dental health that may deserve your attention.
Wisdom teeth. According to folklore, the back third molars are called wisdom teeth because they usually erupt during the transition from a “learning” child to a “wise” adult. Folklore aside, though, wisdom teeth are often a source for dental problems: The last to come in (typically between ages 17 and 25), wisdom teeth often erupt out of alignment in an already crowded jaw, or are impacted and remain hidden below the gums. To avoid the cascade of problems these issues can cause, it may be necessary to remove the teeth.
Permanent restorations. Though not as often as in adults, children and teens can lose teeth to disease, injury or deliberate removal. Because the jaw is still in development, dental implants are not generally advisable. Instead, patients under twenty often have temporary restorations like partial dentures or bonded bridges. As the jaws reach full maturity in a young adult's early 20s, it's often a good time to consider a permanent implant restoration.
Smile makeovers. An upcoming graduation is also a great reason to consider cosmetic smile upgrades. When it comes to improving a smile, the sky's the limit—from professional teeth whitening for dull teeth to porcelain veneers or crowns to mask dental imperfections. It's also not too late to consider orthodontics: Braces or the increasingly popular clear aligners can straighten almost anyone's teeth at any age, as long as the person is in reasonably good health.
This may also be a good time to update your own personal care. Regular dental visits, along with daily brushing and flossing, are the foundation stones for keeping your teeth and gums healthy throughout your life. So, as you “commence” with this new chapter in your life, make a dental appointment now to “commence” with a renewed commitment to your dental health.
If you would like more information about adult dental care, please contact us or schedule a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Wisdom Teeth” and “Teenagers & Dental Implants.”
As a parent, you strive to instill good habits in your children: looking both ways for traffic, doing chores or washing behind the ears. Be sure you also include sound habits for teeth and gum care.
Daily brushing and flossing should be at the top of that habit list. These hygiene tasks remove dental plaque, a bacterial film that builds up on teeth and is most responsible for diseases like tooth decay or periodontal (gum) disease.
Although you'll have to perform these tasks for them early on, your aim should be to teach them to do it for themselves. The best approach is to teach by example: If your child sees you're serious about your own oral hygiene, they're more likely to do so as well.
You should also help them form habits around the foods they eat. Like other aspects of our health, some foods are good for our teeth and gums, and some are not. The primary food in the latter category is sugar: This popular carbohydrate is also a favorite food source for disease-causing oral bacteria.
It's important, then, to minimize sugar and other processed foods in your child's diet, and maximize their consumption of whole grains, fresh fruits and vegetables, and other foods rich in calcium and phosphorous. Instilling good eating habits at an early age can boost both their dental and general health throughout their lives.
Finally, help the budding star athlete in your family develop the habit of wearing a protective mouthguard during contact sports. Your best choice is a custom-made mouthguard by a dentist: Although they cost more than the more common “boil and bite” mouthguard, they tend to offer more protection and are more comfortable to wear. A mouthguard could help your child avoid a costly dental injury that could affect them the rest of their life.
Adopting good dental hygienic, dietary, and safety habits at an early age can have a huge impact on your child's teeth and gum development. And if those early habits “stick,” it could mean a lifetime of disease-free dental health.
If you would like more information on helping your child develop sound dental 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 “How to Help Your Child Develop the Best Habits for Oral Health.”
Hollywood superstar Jennifer Lawrence is a highly paid actress, Oscar winner, successful producer and…merry prankster. She's the latter, at least with co-star Liam Hemsworth: It seems Lawrence deliberately ate tuna fish, garlic or other malodorous foods right before their kissing scenes while filming The Hunger Games.
It was all in good fun, of course—and her punked co-star seemed to take it in good humor. In most situations, though, our mouth breath isn't something we take lightly. It can definitely be an unpleasant experience being on the receiving end of halitosis (bad breath). And when we're worried about our own breath, it can cause us to be timid and self-conscious around others.
So, here's what you can do if you're concerned about bad breath (unless you're trying to prank your co-star!).
Brush and floss daily. Bad breath often stems from leftover food particles that form a film on teeth called dental plaque. Add in bacteria, which thrive in plaque, and you have the makings for smelly breath. Thorough brushing and flossing can clear away plaque and the potential breath smell. You should also clean your dentures daily if you wear them to avoid similar breath issues.
Scrape your tongue. Some people can build up a bacterial coating on the back surface of the tongue. This coating may then emit volatile sulfur compounds (VSCs) that give breath that distinct rotten egg smell. You can remove this coating by brushing the tongue surface with your toothbrush or using a tongue scraper (we can show you how).
See your dentist. Some cases of chronic bad breath could be related to oral problems like tooth decay, gum disease or broken dental work. Treating these could help curb your bad breath, as can removing the third molars (wisdom teeth) that are prone to trapped food debris. It's also possible for bad breath to be a symptom of a systemic condition like diabetes that may require medical treatment.
Quit smoking. Tobacco can leave your breath smelly all on its own. But a smoking habit could also dry your mouth, creating the optimum conditions for bacteria to multiply. Besides increasing your disease risk, this can also contribute to chronic bad breath. Better breath is just one of the many benefits of quitting the habit.
We didn't mention mouthrinses, mints or other popular ways to freshen breath. While these can help out in a pinch, they may cover up the real causes of halitosis. Following the above suggestions, especially dental visits to uncover and treat dental problems, could solve your breath problem for good.
If you would like more information about ways to treat bad breath, please contact us or schedule an appointment. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine article “Bad Breath: More Than Just Embarrassing.”
Other than tooth decay, children don't encounter dental disease to the extent adults do. But injuries are another story: More than 5 million teeth are knocked loose each year, and a high percentage involve children. Roughly a third of these and similar children's injuries are sports-related.
April is National Facial Protection Month: Several oral and facial health organizations, including the American Association of Orthodontists, have joined together to raise awareness about the risks of injury to the face and mouth, especially among children. Many of these injuries have long-term consequences with lifetime treatment costs in the thousands of dollars.
But as the name implies, this awareness month is also about protection—what you can do to help your child avoid a costly and devastating dental injury. Top of the list: Have your child wear an athletic mouthguard during all contact sports activities (including practices).
The National Federation of State High School Associations mandates mouthguard wear for football, lacrosse, and ice and field hockey. But those aren't the only sporting activities where a mouthguard should be standard equipment: In fact, basketball has more orofacial injuries each year than any other sport. Generally, mouthguards should be worn for any sports activity that involves potential contact with other players or objects.
There is a variety of mouthguard choices, but most fall into two basic categories, “boil and bite” and custom-made. The former, readily available in retail sports stores, get their name from the procedure employed when first purchased to adjust their fit to an individual player. Out of the package, they should be soaked in hot or boiling water until softened, and then placed in the wearer's mouth to bite down on. After they cool, they'll retain that bite pattern.
Boil and bite guards are relatively inexpensive, but the fit isn't as precise as a mouthguard that is custom-made by a dentist. This can lead to comfort issues—and players are less likely to wear an uncomfortable mouthguard.
Custom mouthguards, on the other hand, have a more accurate fit, allowing them to be thinner and more comfortable. They also provide the highest level of protection against blows to the face and mouth. These are more costly than boil and bite guards, and younger athletes may need a replacement every few years to accommodate jaw growth development. But compared to the physical, emotional and financial cost of a dental injury, custom mouthguards are worth the investment.
A mouth or face injury can happen in an instant and result in damage that can have lingering effects for years. For the best protection, see that your star athlete has and wears a custom mouthguard.
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