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.
You might be noticing some changes as you get older: You're getting winded easier and you're wondering why book or magazine print has suddenly shrunk (it didn't). Perhaps you've also noticed your mouth seems drier more often.
It could be a condition called xerostomia, in which your body isn't producing enough saliva. Older people are more prone to it because it's often a side effect of prescription drugs that can inhibit saliva production. Because seniors tend to take more medications than other age groups, xerostomia is a more common problem for them.
Xerostomia isn't a pleasant experience. More importantly, it's hazardous to your oral health. Saliva contains antibodies that fight bacterial infection, and it also neutralizes mouth acid that causes tooth decay. A lack of saliva puts you at greater risk for both tooth decay and gum disease.
Fortunately, there are things you can do to alleviate or ease the effects of xerostomia.
Cut back on spicy foods and caffeinated beverages. Spicy or salty foods can irritate your gum tissues and worsen dry mouth symptoms. Because it's a diuretic, caffeine causes you to lose more fluid, something you can't afford with xerostomia. Cutting back on both will improve your symptoms.
Drink more water. Increasing your daily water intake can help you produce more saliva. It also washes away food particles bacteria feed on and dilutes acid buildup, which can reduce your risk for dental disease.
Talk to your doctor and dentist. If you're taking medications with dry mouth side effects, ask your doctor about other alternatives. You can also ask your dentist about products you can use to boost saliva production.
Practice daily hygiene. Daily hygiene is important for everyone, but especially for those whose saliva flow is sub-par. Brushing and flossing clear away dental plaque, the top cause for dental disease. Along with regular dental visits, this practice can significantly reduce your risk for tooth decay and gum disease.
Taking these steps can help you avoid the discomfort that often accompanies xerostomia. It could also help you prevent diseases that could rob you of your dental health.
If you would like more information on dealing with dry mouth, 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 “10 Tips for Dealing With Dry Mouth.”
Ever have a paper cut or an irritated hangnail? They're not considered major health problems, but, boy, can they sting!
Something similar can occur in the corners of your mouth called angular cheilitis. It's also known as perleche, from the French word “to lick” (a common habit with this type of sore). It can occur at any age, with children or young adults developing it from drooling during sleep or orthodontic treatment.
Older adults, though, are more prone than younger people for a variety of reasons. Age-related wrinkling is a major factor, especially “marionette lines” that run from the mouth to the chin. Dried or thinned out skin due to exposure from cold, windy weather may also contribute to perleche.
Perleche can also develop from within the mouth, particularly if a person is experiencing restricted salivary flow leading to reduced lubrication around the lips. Poorly cleaned dentures, weakened facial supporting structure due to missing teeth, vitamin deficiencies and some systemic diseases can all lead to perleche. And if an oral yeast infection occurs around the cracked mouth corners, the irritation can worsen and prolong the healing process.
To clear up a case of cracked mouth corners, you should promptly see your dentist for treatment. Treatment will typically include some form of antifungal ointment or lozenge applied over a few days to clear up the sores and prevent or stop any infection. You might also need to apply a steroid ointment for inflammation and other ointments to facilitate healing.
To prevent future episodes, your dentist may ask you to use a chlorhexidine mouthrinse to curb yeast growth. If you wear dentures, you'll need to adopt a regular cleaning routine (as well as leaving them out at night). You might also wish to consider updated dental restorations or orthodontics to improve dental support, and help from a dermatologist if wrinkling might be a potential cause.
Cracked mouth corners won't harm you, but they can make for a miserable experience. Take steps to relieve the irritation and any future occurrence.
If you would like more information on angular cheilitis or similar oral conditions, 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 “Cracked Corners of the Mouth.”
Professional Hockey player Keith Yandle is the current NHL “iron man”—that is, he has earned the distinction of playing in the most consecutive games. On November 23, Yandle was in the first period of his 820th consecutive game when a flying puck knocked out or broke nine of his front teeth. He returned third period to play the rest of the game, reinforcing hockey players’ reputation for toughness. Since talking was uncomfortable, he texted sportswriter George Richards the following day: “Skating around with exposed roots in your mouth is not the best.”
We agree with Yandle wholeheartedly. What we don’t agree with is waiting even one day to seek treatment after serious dental trauma. It was only on the following day that Yandle went to the dentist. And after not missing a game in over 10 years, Yandle wasn’t going to let a hiccup like losing, breaking or cracking nearly a third of his teeth interfere with his iron man streak. He was back on the ice later that day to play his 821st game.
As dentists, we don’t award points for toughing it out. If anything, we give points for saving teeth—and that means getting to the dentist as soon as possible after suffering dental trauma and following these tips:
- If a tooth is knocked loose or pushed deeper into the socket, don’t force the tooth back into position.
- If you crack a tooth, rinse your mouth but don’t wiggle the tooth or bite down on it.
- If you chip or break a tooth, save the tooth fragment and store it in milk or saliva. You can keep it against the inside of your cheek (not recommend for small children who are at greater risk of swallowing the tooth).
- If the entire tooth comes out, pick up the tooth without touching the root end. Gently rinse it off and store it in milk or saliva. You can try to push the tooth back into the socket yourself, but many people feel uneasy about doing this. The important thing is to not let the tooth dry out and to contact us immediately. Go to the hospital if you cannot get to the dental office.
Although keeping natural teeth for life is our goal, sometimes the unexpected happens. If a tooth cannot be saved after injury or if a damaged tooth must be extracted, there are excellent tooth replacement options available. With today’s advanced dental implant technology, it is possible to have replacement teeth that are indistinguishable from your natural teeth—in terms of both look and function.
And always wear a mouthguard when playing contact sports! A custom mouthguard absorbs some of the forces of impact to help protect you against severe dental injury.
If you would like more information about how to protect against or treat dental trauma or about replacing teeth with dental implants, please contact us or schedule a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Dental Implants: A Tooth-Replacement Method That Rarely Fails” and “The Field-Side Guide to Dental Injuries.”
A fair number of people with total tooth loss have arrived at this point after a long history of dental issues. It's quite likely they've had a series of bridges or partial dentures over the years to accommodate lost teeth at various times before moving to full dentures.
For many, it often seems easier to extract any remaining teeth at some point and simply move on to a total restoration. It's often better for oral health, however, to preserve any remaining teeth for as long as possible and update restorations as needed. Dental implants could make this type of staged restoration strategy much easier to manage.
Implants are tiny metal posts surgically imbedded in a patient's jawbone. Over time, bone cells grow and adhere to the implant's titanium surface, creating a strong and durable hold. Its most familiar application is as a replacement for an individual tooth.
But because of their strength and durability, this advanced dental technology is also used to support other restorations like bridges and partial or full dentures by way of a few strategically placed implants. And it's in that role that they can be useful in planning and implementing future restoration upgrades when needed.
Under this strategy, we add implants to supplement pre-existing implants from earlier restorations to support the updated dental work. For example, we might have previously placed an implant supporting a single tooth or a small bridge. When the need later arises for a partial denture, we can add additional implants to be used with the earlier one to support the new denture.
If the earlier implants have been well-placed, we need only to add enough implants necessary to support a full denture when the time comes. How many will depend on the particular type of denture: A removable lower denture may only require one additional implant with one already in place. A fixed upper or lower denture will require enough to bring the number to between four and eight.
Taking this long-term approach can be more cost-effective in the long-run. More importantly, it can make for a smoother path for the patient and help preserve remaining teeth for as long as possible.
If you would like more information on restoration options for lost teeth, 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 “Replacing All Teeth but Not All at Once.”
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