Today’s dental care has advanced leaps and bound over the last century. But these advances are tiny steps compared to what many believe may be coming in the next few decades. This optimism arises from our growing understanding of deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA), the chain-like molecule that houses the genetic instructions for the growth, function and reproduction of every cell in the body.
As researchers unlock the secrets of this vast genetic blueprint unique to each individual the possible applications from this knowledge are astounding. Here are just a few possibilities that could one day impact everyone’s oral health.
Preventing tooth decay. This rampant disease, triggered by bacteria (particularly Streptococcus mutans), can cause extensive damage in otherwise healthy teeth. There’s already some indications from the study of genomics that we may be able to stop or at least hinder this disease in its tracks. Already we’re seeing advances in gene therapy that might be able to inhibit the growth of Strep mutans and reduce its colonies in the mouth.
Growing new teeth. Composed of various layers, a natural tooth is part of a dynamic system of bone and gum ligaments that allow movement, protection and nourishment. Although dental implants are the closest and most advanced artificial approximation we now have to them, implants still can’t fully measure up to the function and capabilities of a natural tooth. But further insight into the genetic code may one day allow us to reproduce a living replacement tooth for a lost one.
Harnessing saliva for detecting disease. The impact of genomics related to the mouth could impact more than just the mouth itself. Researchers have discovered that saliva contains genetic information similar to blood, urine and other bodily fluids with markers for various disease conditions. Unlike other fluids, though, saliva is relatively easy to collect. The key is new equipment and testing protocols to take advantage of the information already available in a single drop of saliva.
These examples illustrate the range of possibilities for better health in the future: a reduction in dental disease early in life; new and better ways to restore missing teeth; and quicker ways to diagnose dangerous health conditions.
If you would like more information on new developments in dental care, 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 “The Future of Dentistry: A Sneak Preview of Your Dental Future.”
Dental anxiety is a common problem: it’s estimated that one in two Americans admits to some level of nervousness about seeing the dentist. On the extreme side of this statistic about 15% of the population even avoid or postpone dental care because of it. While comedy shows routinely make fun of people’s fear of the dentist, the consequences of not receiving needed dental care due to dental anxiety are no laughing matter.
Fortunately, visiting the dentist doesn’t have to be a nerve-wracking, butterflies-in-the-stomach experience. Here are 3 ways to make sure your next visit is more pleasant.
The right dentist. Dental care is more than technical—it’s also personal and relational. The most important element for reducing dental visit anxiety is a provider you’re comfortable with and that you trust. It’s especially important for high anxiety patients to find a dentist who also has compassion for how they feel and won’t judge them—instead, working with them to find just the right combination of techniques and possible medications that encourage relaxation.
Oral sedation. For many people nervous about dental visits the answer could be prescribed sedation medication taken an hour or so before their appointment. Typically a mild sedative, the dose is just enough to help them relax. It’s also often coupled with other methods like nitrous oxide or local anesthesia for a pain-free and unstressed experience.
IV sedation. For people with high levels of anxiety, it’s often beneficial to increase the level of sedation. One of the best ways to do this is with an intravenous flow of medication that will place a person in a deeper state of relaxation. Although this method requires careful vital sign monitoring during the procedure, it’s often the best way to calm patients with high anxiety so they can receive the dental care they need.
Working with your dentist, you can develop just the right mix of these and other methods for making your dental visits easier. No matter what your level of anxiety, you don’t have to avoid the dentist nor needed dental care.
If you would like more information on reducing anxiety during dental visits, 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 “IV Sedation in Dentistry.”
One of the best and most successful tooth replacement choices available is the dental implant. No other restorative method is as similar in both form and function to a real tooth as an implant; and with a success rate of 95-plus percent after ten years, it’s one of the most durable.
But there can be extenuating circumstances that make obtaining an implant difficult or sometimes impossible. One possible problematic situation is the systemic disease diabetes.
Diabetes is a hormonal condition in which the body is unable to sufficiently regulate the amount of glucose (a basic sugar that provides energy to the body’s cells) within the blood stream. Normally, the pancreas produces the hormone insulin to reduce excess glucose. But diabetes interferes with this insulin production: if you have Type 1 diabetes, the pancreas has stopped producing insulin altogether; if you have the more common Type 2, the body doesn’t produce adequate insulin or it doesn’t respond sufficiently to the insulin produced.
Over time diabetes can affect other areas of health, especially wound healing. Because the condition gradually causes blood vessels to narrow and stiffen, the normal inflammatory response to disease or trauma can become prolonged. This in turn slows the rate of wound healing.
Slow wound healing can have a bearing on the recovery period just after implant surgery, especially the necessary integration process that takes place between the bone and the titanium metal implant that provides its signature strength. If that process is impeded by slow wound healing caused by diabetes, the risk increases dramatically for implant failure.
That’s the worst case scenario if you have diabetes, but only if your condition is out of control. If, however, you have your blood sugar levels well regulated through medication, diet and exercise, then your chances for implant success could easily be on par with someone without diabetes.
So if you’re diabetic and are considering dental implants for missing teeth, it’s important to discuss the possibility of obtaining them with both your dentist and the physician caring for your diabetes. With your overall healthcare team working together, there’s no reason why diabetes should stop you from enjoying this premiere restoration for missing teeth.
If you would like more information on obtaining dental implants, 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 “Dental Implants & Diabetes.”
Fans of the legendary rock band Steely Dan received some sad news a few months ago: Co-founder Walter Becker died unexpectedly at the age of 67. The cause of his death was an aggressive form of esophageal cancer. This disease, which is related to oral cancer, may not get as much attention as some others. Yet Becker's name is the latest addition to the list of well-known people whose lives it has cut short—including actor Humphrey Bogart, writer Christopher Hitchens, and TV personality Richard Dawson.
As its name implies, esophageal cancer affects the esophagus: the long, hollow tube that joins the throat to the stomach. Solid and liquid foods taken into the mouth pass through this tube on their way through the digestive system. Worldwide, it is the sixth most common cause of cancer deaths.
Like oral cancer, esophageal cancer generally does not produce obvious symptoms in its early stages. As a result, by the time these diseases are discovered, both types of cancer are most often in their later stages, and often prove difficult to treat successfully. Another similarity is that dentists can play an important role in oral and esophageal cancer detection.
Many people see dentists more often than any other health care professionals—at recommended twice-yearly checkups, for example. During routine examinations, we check the mouth, tongue, neck and throat for possible signs of oral cancer. These may include lumps, swellings, discolorations, and other abnormalities—which, fortunately, are most often harmless. Other symptoms, including persistent coughing or hoarseness, difficulty swallowing, and unexplained weight loss, are common to both oral and esophageal cancer. Chest pain, worsening heartburn or indigestion and gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) can also alert us to the possibility of esophageal cancer.
Cancer may be a scary subject—but early detection and treatment can offer many people the best possible outcome. If you have questions about oral or esophageal cancer, call our office or schedule a consultation. You can learn more in the Dear Doctor magazine article “Oral Cancer.”
Along with periodontal (gum) disease, tooth decay poses one of the two greatest threats to your teeth. Cavities are just the start: if decay invades the pulp, the tooth’s innermost layer, the infection created can continue to advance through the root canals to the supporting bone. This worst case scenario could cost you your tooth.
But we can stop this advanced decay in its tracks with a procedure called a root canal treatment. A root canal essentially removes all the infected tissue within the tooth and then seals it from further infection. And contrary to its undeserved reputation for being painful, a root canal can actually stop the severe tooth pain that decay can cause.
At the beginning of the procedure, we deaden the affected tooth and surrounding tissues with local anesthesia—you’ll be awake and alert, but without pain. We then isolate the tooth with a dental dam of thin rubber or vinyl to create a sterile environment around it to minimize contamination from bacteria found in saliva and the rest of the mouth.
We then drill a small hole through the enamel and dentin to access the interior of the tooth. With special instruments, we remove and clean out all the diseased or dead tissue in the pulp chamber and root canals. After disinfecting the empty spaces with an antibacterial solution, we’ll shape the root canals to make it easier to perform the next step of placing the filling.
To fill all the root canals and pulp chamber, we typically use a rubber-like material called gutta-percha. Because it’s thermoplastic (“thermo”—heat; “plastic”—to shape), we can compress it into and against the walls of the root canals in a heated state to fully seal them. This is crucial for preventing the empty tooth interior from becoming re-infected. Afterward, we’ll seal the access hole with its own filling; later, we’ll bond a permanent crown to the tooth for additional protection and cosmetic enhancement.
After the procedure you may have some temporary minor discomfort usually manageable with aspirin or ibuprofen, but your nagging toothache will be gone. More importantly, your tooth will have a second chance—and your dental health and smile will be the better for it.
If you would like more information on treating 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 “A Step-By-Step Guide to Root Canal Treatment.”
This website includes materials that are protected by copyright, or other proprietary rights. Transmission or reproduction of protected items beyond that allowed by fair use, as defined in the copyright laws, requires the written permission of the copyright owners.