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.”
How many actresses have portrayed a neuroscientist on a wildly successful TV comedy while actually holding an advanced degree in neuroscience? As far as we know, exactly one: Mayim Bialik, who plays the lovably geeky Amy Farrah Fowler on CBS' The Big Bang Theory… and earned her PhD from UCLA.
Acknowledging her nerdy side, Bialik recently told Dear Doctor magazine, “I'm different, and I can't not be different.” Yet when it comes to her family's oral health, she wants the same things we all want: good checkups and great-looking smiles. “We're big on teeth and oral care,” she said. “Flossing is really a pleasure in our house.”
How does she get her two young sons to do it?
Bialik uses convenient pre-loaded floss holders that come complete with floss and a handle. “I just keep them in a little glass right next to the toothbrushes so they're open, no one has to reach, they're just right there,” she said. “It's really become such a routine, I don't even have to ask them anymore.”
As many parents have discovered, establishing healthy routines is one of the best things you can do to maintain your family's oral health. Here are some other oral hygiene tips you can try at home:
Brush to the music — Plenty of pop songs are about two minutes long… and that's the length of time you should brush your teeth. If brushing in silence gets boring, add a soundtrack. When the music's over — you're done!
Flossing can be fun — If standard dental floss doesn't appeal, there are many different styles of floss holders, from functional ones to cartoon characters… even some with a martial-arts theme! Find the one that your kids like best, and encourage them to use it.
The eyes don't lie — To show your kids how well (or not) they are cleaning their teeth, try using an over-the-counter disclosing solution. This harmless product will temporarily stain any plaque or debris that got left behind after brushing, so they can immediately see where they missed, and how to improve their hygiene technique — which will lead to better health.
Have regular dental exams & cleanings — When kids see you're enthusiastic about going to the dental office, it helps them feel the same way… and afterward, you can point out how great it feels to have a clean, sparkling smile.
One of the key elements in a child’s development is their first set of teeth. Although primary (“baby”) teeth last only a few years, they’re critically important for enabling a child to eat solid foods, speak and smile.
But they also provide one more important benefit—they hold the space in the jaw reserved for the permanent teeth developing just under the gums until they erupt. But if a child loses a primary tooth prematurely because of disease or injury, other teeth may drift into the vacant space and crowd it out for the intended permanent tooth. It may then come in misaligned or remain stuck within the gums (impaction).
To avoid this, we try to treat and preserve a diseased primary tooth if at all practical. For a primary molar, one of the large teeth in the back of the mouth, this might include capping it with a stainless steel crown.
Why a metal crown? Primary molars normally don’t fall out until around ages 10-12, so it may be years for a younger child before their permanent molars erupt. All during that time these particular teeth will encounter heavier biting forces than teeth in the front.
A steel crown is often the best solution for a molar given their longer lifespans and encountered biting forces. The crown’s metal construction can stand up to these forces while still protecting the tooth from re-infection from decay. And because molars are typically outside of the “smile zone” occupied by more visible front teeth, the crown’s metal appearance isn’t usually an aesthetic issue.
Crowning a molar usually takes one visit, a dentist typically performing the procedure with local anesthesia and possibly a mild sedative like nitrous oxide gas (“laughing gas”). After removing any decayed structure from the tooth, the dentist will then fit a pre-formed crown over the remaining structure, sized and shaped to match the original tooth as close as possible.
A stainless steel crown is a cost-effective way to added needed years to a primary molar that could otherwise be lost prematurely. Preserving it may help a child avoid bite problems and expensive future treatments.
If you would like more information on dental care for primary 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 “Stainless Steel Crowns for Kids: A Safe and Effective Way to Restore Primary Molars.”
The various structures in your mouth — your teeth and gums, of course, as well as periodontal tissues that hold teeth in place within the jaw — all function together to create your smile. This includes muscles like the frenum, a fold of muscle tissue that connects the gums to the upper lip, which helps pull the lip upward when you smile.
Unfortunately, an overly large frenum could contribute to an unattractive space between your two upper front teeth. The problem occurs when the frenum grows beyond its normal range and runs between the front teeth to connect with the gums behind them at the forefront of the roof of your mouth. The resulting space that may develop can be closed with orthodontics, but unless the excess frenum tissue is addressed the space may eventually reopen.
The frenum is just one cause among many for a noticeably wide space, including bite problems (malocclusions), finger-sucking habits or missing teeth. We would, therefore, need to examine your mouth to determine the exact cause before beginning any treatment. If indeed the frenum is the source of the problem, it will be necessary to ultimately remove the excess portion through a procedure known as a frenectomy.
A frenectomy is a minor surgical procedure performed by a periodontist, oral surgeon or a general dentist with surgical training. After numbing the area with local anesthesia, the tissue behind the teeth is dissected or reduced in size with a small scalpel or a surgical laser. The wound is then closed with a few stitches; any post-surgical discomfort is usually minimal and managed with non-steroidal anti-inflammatory pain medication. The wound will completely heal within a few weeks.
Most frenectomies are performed after orthodontics to close the space. Removing it prior to tooth movement may result in scar tissue that prevents the space from closing. It’s also easier for the surgeon to gauge how much tissue to remove after space closure to avoid removing too much, which can leave a “black” triangular hole where gum tissue should normally be.
Treating an abnormally large frenum isn’t difficult, but it needs to be coordinated with orthodontic treatment for the best outcome. The end result is a smile that’s both healthy and attractive.
If you would like more information on teeth spacing problems, 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 “Space between Front Teeth.”
True or false: there’s no cause for concern about tooth decay until your child’s permanent teeth erupt.
False—decayed primary teeth can lead to potentially serious consequences later in life.
Although “baby” teeth last only a few years, they’re essential to future dental health because they act as placeholders and guides for the incoming permanent teeth. If they’re lost prematurely due to decay, other teeth may drift into the empty space intended for the emerging permanent tooth. Because of this, inadequate space will crowd the out of proper alignment.
And because they have thinner enamel than permanent teeth, primary teeth are more susceptible to decay. Once decay sets in, it can spread rapidly in a matter of months.
Fortunately, we may be able to prevent this from happening to your child’s primary teeth with a few simple guidelines. It all begins with understanding the underlying causes of tooth decay.
Tooth decay begins with bacteria: As a result of their digestion, these microorganisms secrete acid that at high levels can erode tooth enamel. The higher the population of bacteria in the mouth, the higher the acidity and potential threat to the teeth.
The first objective then in preventing decay is to remove dental plaque, the thin film of bacteria and food particles on tooth surfaces, through daily brushing and flossing. And because bacteria feed on sugar as a primary food source, you should reduce your child’s sugar consumption by restricting it to only meal times and not sending your child to bed with a bottle filled with a sugary liquid (including formula or breast milk).
To help boost your child’s protection, we can also apply sealants and fluoride to teeth to help protect and strengthen their enamel from acid attack. Because we’ll also monitor for signs of decay, it’s important to begin regular dental visits beginning around age one. If we do detect decay, we can then treat it and make every effort to preserve your child’s primary teeth until they’ve completed their normal life cycle.
By taking these steps, we can help make sure your child’s early teeth go the distance. Their current and future dental health will certainly benefit.
If you would like more information on prevention and treatment of 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 “Do Babies Get Tooth Decay?”
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