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.
One of the major signs that a young person's dental development is nearing completion is the eruption of the last four permanent teeth: the third molars, located rear-most on either side of both the upper and lower jaws. But the advent of these molars, also called wisdom teeth, isn't always a cause for celebration: They can give rise to serious dental problems.
Wisdom teeth often arrive on an already crowded jaw, making them subject to erupting out of position or becoming impacted, totally or partially submerged in the gums. This can cause harm not only to themselves, but also to other teeth: They can impinge on and damage the roots of their neighbors; impede brushing and flossing and increase the risk of disease; and skew the alignment of other teeth to create poor bites that affect dental health and function.
Wisdom teeth are considered so prone to these problems (an estimated 70% between ages 20 and 30 have at least one impacted molar) that it's been a common practice to remove them before they show signs of disease or poor bite development. As a result, third molar extractions are the most common surgical procedure performed by oral surgeons.
But the dental profession is now reevaluating this practice of early removal. On the whole, it's difficult to predict if the eruption of wisdom teeth in a particular person will actually lead to problems. It may be premature, then, to remove wisdom teeth before there's sufficient evidence of its necessity.
As a result, many dentists now follow a more nuanced approach to wisdom teeth management. An impacted wisdom tooth that's diseased or contributing to disease is an obvious candidate for removal. But if the eruption is proceeding without signs of impaction, disease or poor bite development, many providers recommend not removing them early. Instead, their development is allowed to continue, although monitored closely.
If signs of problems do begin to emerge, then removal may again be an option. Until then, a more long-term watchful approach toward wisdom teeth may be the best strategy for helping a young person achieve optimal dental health.
If you would like more information on managing wisdom teeth treatment, 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 “Wisdom Teeth: Coming of Age May Come With a Dilemma.”
Think no one is looking at your smile when you’re out in public? Nick Jonas’ recent experience might convince you otherwise. While the Jonas Brothers were performing during the 2020 Grammys, fans watching on television picked up on some dark matter between his teeth.
To say Twitter lit up is an understatement. For many, it was that thing you couldn’t unsee: Forget the performance, what was that between his teeth? Jonas later fessed up by tweeting, “…At least you all know I eat my greens.”
We’re sure Nick and his brothers take care of their teeth, as most any high-profile entertainer would. You can probably attribute his dental faux pas to trying to squeeze in some nourishment during a rushed performance schedule.
Still, the Grammy incident (Spinachgate?) shows that people do notice when your teeth aren’t as clean as they should be. To avoid that embarrassment, here are some handy tips for keeping your teeth looking their best while you’re on the go.
Start with a clean mouth. You’re more apt to collect food debris during the day if you have built-up plaque on your teeth. This sticky bacterial biofilm attracts new food particles like a magnet. Remove plaque by thoroughly brushing and flossing before you head out the door.
Rinse after eating. Although your saliva helps clear leftover food from your mouth, it may not adequately flush away all the debris. You can assist this process by swishing and rinsing with clean water after a meal.
Keep a little floss handy. Even after rinsing, stubborn bits of food can remain lodged between teeth. So just in case, keep a small bit of emergency floss (or a floss pick) in your purse or wallet to remove any debris you see or feel between your teeth.
Watch what you eat. Some foods—like popcorn, sticky snacks or fibrous vegetables—are notorious for sticking in teeth. Try to avoid eating these foods right before a public appearance where your smile may be critical.
And here’s an added bonus: Not only will these tips help keep your smile attractive on the go, they’ll also help keep it healthy. Rinsing with water, for example, helps lower your mouth’s acid level after eating, a prime factor in tooth decay. And flossing, both as a regular practice and for occasional stuck food, decreases plaque and subsequently your risk of tooth decay and gum disease.
Remember, a healthy mouth is the starting place for a beautiful smile. Keep it that way with dedicated hygiene habits at home or on the go.
It's September—and that means football season is underway. Whether you're playing, spectating or managing a fantasy team, the action is about to ramp up. Unfortunately, increased “action” also includes injury risk, especially for a player's teeth, mouth and jaws.
Injury prevention is a top priority for all players, whether the pros or the little guys in Pee Wee league. For oral injuries, the single best way to avoid them is by wearing an athletic mouthguard. This soft but durable plastic appliance helps cushion the force of a direct blow to the face or mouth. Wearing one can help prevent tooth and gum damage, as well as lessen the risk for jaw or facial bone fractures.
Mouthguard use is fairly straightforward—a player should wear one anytime there's player-to-player contact. That's not only during game time, but also during practice and informal play. But what's not always straightforward is which type of mouthguard to purchase. That's right: You'll have to decide from among a variety of mouthguards on the market.
Actually, though, most fall into one of two categories: the “Boil and Bite” found in most retail stores with a sports gear department; or the custom mouthguard fashioned by a dentist.
The first are called Boil and Bite because the mouthguard must first be softened with hot water and then placed in the intended wearer's mouth to bite down on in its softened state. When the mouthguard cools and re-hardens, it will retain the bite impression to give it somewhat of an individual fit. These retail guards are relatively inexpensive and reasonably effective in cushioning hard contact, but they can also be on the bulky side and uncomfortable to wear.
In contrast, custom mouthguards are formed from an accurate impression of the wearer's bite taken in the dental office. Because of the individualized fit, we can create a guard with less bulk, greater comfort and, due to their precision, better effectiveness in preventing injury.
A custom guard is more expensive than a retail mouthguard, and younger players may need a new upgrade after a few seasons to accommodate fit changes due to jaw development. But even so, with its higher level of protection and comfort (making it more likely to be worn during play), a custom mouthguard is a worthwhile investment that costs far less than a devastating dental injury.
So, if you or a family member will be hitting the gridiron this fall (or, for that matter, the basketball court or baseball diamond later in the year), be sure you invest in a mouthguard. It's a wise way to ensure this football season will be a happy one.
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.”
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