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.”
A few days before the Oscars, Vanity Fair magazine asked Academy Awards host Neil Patrick Harris to name his most treasured possession. Was it his Tony award statuette for best leading actor in a musical? His star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame? The stethoscope he wore while playing teenaged doctor Doogie Howser on TV? No, as it turns out, the 41-year-old actor’s most treasured possession is… his wisdom teeth. Yes, you read that correctly. “Oddly, I still have my four wisdom teeth,” Harris said. “I refuse to let them go or I’ll lose my wise parts.”
How odd is it for a 41-year-old to have wisdom teeth? Actually, not that odd at all. While it is true that wisdom teeth are often removed, there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to this. It all depends on whether they are causing problems now, or are likely to cause problems in the future.
The trouble wisdom teeth cause is related to the fact that they are the last molars to come in, and that molars are large in size. By the time wisdom teeth appear between the ages of 17 and 21, there often is not enough room for them in the jaw. Sometimes it’s because you may have inherited a jaw size that’s too small for your tooth size; and generally speaking, the size of the human jaw has evolved to become smaller over time.
If room is lacking, the adjacent molar (that came in earlier) can interfere with the path of eruption — causing the wisdom tooth to come in at an odd angle. The wisdom tooth can hit up against that other tooth, possibly causing pain or damaging the adjacent tooth. This is known as “impaction.” Sometimes the wisdom tooth breaks only partway through the gum tissue, leaving a space beneath the gum line that’s almost impossible to clean, causing infection. A serious oral infection can jeopardize the survival of teeth, and even spread to other parts of the body.
If a wisdom tooth is impacted, will you know it? Not necessarily. A tooth can be impacted without causing pain. But we can see the position of your wisdom teeth on a dental x-ray and help you make an informed decision as to whether they should stay or go. If removal is the best course of action, rest assured that this procedure is completely routine and that your comfort and safety is our highest priority. If there is no great risk to keeping them, as Neil Patrick Harris has done, we can simply continue to monitor their condition at your regular dental checkups. It will be particularly important to make sure you are reaching those teeth with your brush and floss, and that you keep to your schedule of regular professional cleanings at the dental office. All healthy teeth are indeed worth treasuring.
If you would like more information about wisdom teeth, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can learn more by reading the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Wisdom Teeth” and “Removing Wisdom Teeth.”
If you suffer frequent sinus infections, you might want to talk with your dentist about it. It could be your chronic sinus problems stem from a deeply decayed or infected tooth.
Sinuses are hollow, air-filled spaces in the front of the skull associated with nasal passages. The largest, the maxillary sinuses, are located just behind the cheekbones and above and to the rear of the upper jaw on either side of the face. These sinuses can become painfully congested when infected.
One possible cause for an infection in the maxillary sinus can occur in certain people whose upper back teeth (the molars and premolars) have roots that are close to or even protrude into the sinus. This is normally a minor anatomical feature, unless such a tooth becomes infected.
An infection in teeth with advancing decay or whose nerve tissue has died will eventually reach the root tip through tiny passageways called root canals. If the roots are close to or penetrating the maxillary sinus, the infection could move into the sinus. This is known as Maxillary Sinusitis of Endodontic Origin (MSEO).
A case of MSEO could potentially go on for years with occasional flare-ups of sinus congestion or post-nasal drip. Because of the nature of the infection within the sinus, the affected tooth itself may not show the normal signs of infection like sensitivity or pain. Doctors may attempt to treat the sinus infection with antibiotics, but because the actual source of the infection is within the tooth, this therapy is often ineffective.
If your doctor or dentist suspects MSEO, they may refer you to an endodontist, a specialist in root canals and interior tooth problems. With their advanced diagnostic capabilities, endodontists may have a better chance of accurately diagnosing and locating the source of a tooth-related infection.
As with any non-vital tooth, the likely treatment will be root canal therapy in which the infected tissue within the tooth is removed and the empty spaces filled to prevent future infection. For MSEO, the treatment not only preserves the tooth but may also relieve the infection within the sinus.
If you think “vaping” electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes for short) is healthier for your teeth and gums than smoking cigarettes, you might be disappointed with the latest research. A number of studies seem to indicate e-cigarettes could be just as damaging to your mouth as traditional cigarettes.
An e-cigarette is a device containing a chamber for liquids and a means to heat the liquid into a vapor. The user then inhales or “vapes” the vapor, which contains nicotine and flavorings. The heat also pressurizes the vapor causing it to expel as an aerosol into the mouth.
Researchers have found the ingredients and aerosol effect could lead to potential health problems. An Ohio State University researcher found that vaping disrupted the normal balance of microorganisms in the mouth known as the oral microbiome. This imbalance could make it easier for disease-causing bacteria to proliferate, particularly those most responsible for periodontal (gum) disease.
Another study coming out of the University of Rochester and Stony Brook University in New York detected cell damage in gum tissue caused by e-cigarette vapor similar to that caused by regular cigarette smoke. Some of this damage seemed to result from the flavoring agents used in the e-cigarette liquid, as well as nicotine.
Another study from Quebec, Canada appears to concur with the New York study. These researchers found the damage caused by e-cigarette vapor might substantially increase the rate of cell death in oral tissues by as much as 50% over a short period of time. This kind of damage can lead to higher risks of dental diseases like gum disease or tooth decay.
While we don’t know the long-term effect of using e-cigarettes on both oral and general health, these studies are alarming: They seem to show vaping may cause some of the same problems as smoking. With the jury still out, the prudent thing to do is limit or avoid vaping altogether to protect your mouth from these unhealthy outcomes.
Generations have depended on dentures to effectively and affordably replace lost teeth. But they do have a major weakness: They contribute to jawbone loss that creates not only mouth and facial problems, but can also ruin a denture’s fit.
Bone loss is a normal consequence of losing teeth. The biting forces normally generated when we chew stimulate new bone to replace older bone. When a tooth is missing, however, so is that chewing stimulation. This can slow bone replacement growth and gradually decrease the density and volume of affected bone.
While dentures can restore dental appearance and function, they can’t restore this growth stimulation. What’s worse, the pressure of the dentures against the gum-covered jaw ridge they rest upon may irritate the underlying bone and accelerate loss.
But there is a solution to the problem of denture-related bone loss: an implant-supported denture. Rather than obtaining its major support from the gum ridges, this new type of denture is secured by strategically-placed implants that connect with it.
Besides the enhanced support they can provide to a denture restoration, implants can also deter bone loss. This is because of the special affinity bone cells have with an implant’s imbedded titanium post. The gradual growth of bone on and around the implant surface not only boosts the implant’s strength and durability, it can also improve bone health.
There are two types of implant-supported dentures. One is a removable appliance that connects with implants installed in the jaw (three or more for the upper jaw or as few as two in the lower). It may also be possible to retrofit existing dentures to connect with implants.
The other type is a fixed appliance a dentist permanently installs by screwing it into anywhere from four and six implants. The fixed implant-supported denture is closer to the feel of real teeth (you’ll brush and floss normally), but it’s usually more costly than the removable implant-supported denture.
While more expensive than traditional ones, implant-supported dentures still cost less than other restorations like individual implant tooth replacements. They may also help deter bone loss, which may lead to a longer lasting fit with the dentures. Visit your dentist for an evaluation of your dental condition to see if you’re a good candidate for this advanced form of dental restoration.
If you would like more information on implant-supported dentures, 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 “Overdentures & Fixed Dentures.”
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