Although dental care has made incredible advances over the last century, the underlying approach to treating tooth decay has changed little. Today’s dentists treat a decayed tooth in much the same way as their counterparts from the early 20th Century: remove all decayed structure, prepare the tooth and fill the cavity.
Dentists still use that approach not only because of its effectiveness, but also because no other alternative has emerged to match it. But that may change in the not-too-distant future according to recent research.
A research team at Kings College, London has found that a drug called Tideglusib, used for treating Alzheimer’s disease, appears to also stimulate teeth to regrow some of its structure. The drug seemed to cause stem cells to produce dentin, one of the tooth’s main structural layers.
During experimentation, the researchers drilled holes in mouse teeth. They then placed within the holes tiny sponges soaked with Tideglusib. They found that within a matter of weeks the holes had filled with dentin produced by the teeth themselves.
Dentin regeneration isn’t a new phenomenon, but other occurrences of regrowth have only produced it in tiny amounts. The Kings College research, though, gives rise to the hope that stem cell stimulation could produce dentin on a much larger scale. If that proves out, our teeth may be able to create restorations by “filling themselves” that are much more durable and with possibly fewer complications.
As with any medical breakthrough, the practical application for this new discovery may be several years away. But because the medication responsible for dentin regeneration in these experiments with mouse teeth is already available and in use, the process toward an application with dental patients could be relatively short.
If so, a new biological approach to treating tooth decay may one day replace the time-tested filling method we currently use. One day, you won’t need a filling from a dentist—your teeth may do it for you.
Millions of microorganisms call your mouth home—and while most are friendly, some are not. An invasive procedure like implant surgery can disrupt the mouth's soft tissues and allow disease-causing bacteria to enter the bloodstream.
This isn't necessarily a major concern if your immune system is sound—your body will move quickly to quash any developing infection. But if your body's defense is weak or compromised by other health conditions, an ensuing infection could cause you problems. In the case of a dental implant, a localized infection around it could lead to its failure.
The bone normally grows and adheres to the surface of an implant soon after it's placed, giving it the added strength and durability for which implants are best known. A bacterial infection, though, could impede bone integration and weaken the implant's hold within the jaw.
One way to avoid this is by treating patients at high risk for infection with an antibiotic before the procedure. In one recent study, researchers concluded that patients receiving a 2-gram dose of amoxicillin an hour before implant surgery helped reduce the risk of future implant failure.
But before taking this route, the dentist must first decide whether antibiotic pre-treatment might be more detrimental than beneficial to an individual patient. Antibiotics can cause side effects in certain people ranging from diarrhea to allergic reactions. Healthcare providers must also be prudent with administering antibiotics for the good of society in general—overuse can potentially give rise to antibiotic-resistant bacteria.
A number of healthcare associations highly recommend antibiotic pre-treatment for any dental patient with prosthetic heart valves, a history of infective endocarditis, a heart transplant and similar heart conditions. They also recognize patients with conditions like prosthetic joints, weakened immune systems, diabetics or other serious health problems could also benefit from antibiotic pre-treatment, but leave it to the physician's discretion on whether or not it's appropriate for an individual patient.
If you're planning to undergo implant surgery or a similar procedure and are concerned about infection, speak with your dentist about whether you would qualify and benefit from antibiotic pre-treatment. If appropriate, taking an antibiotic beforehand could minimize your infection risk.
If you would like more information on pre-surgical antibiotic 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 “Implants & Antibiotics: Lowering Risk of Implant Failure.”
While pregnancy is an exciting time for expectant mothers, it can pose extra health challenges. This is especially true regarding dental health.
Because of hormonal changes that naturally occur during pregnancy, your teeth and gums are at higher risk for dental disease. These changes can increase cravings for carbohydrates, particularly sugar. Increased sugar consumption feeds bacteria found in dental plaque, which is most responsible for tooth decay and periodontal (gum) disease.
Hormonal changes can also make your gums more susceptible to infection. Conditions may be favorable for a form of gum disease called pregnancy gingivitis, which can begin as an infection in the surface layers of the gums. But like other forms of gum disease, pregnancy gingivitis can advance below the gum line and lead to serious health consequences.
Because of this "pregnancy effect" on your teeth and gums, there are some things to which you should pay heed while you're expecting. First and foremost, keep up a daily regimen of brushing and flossing to remove accumulated dental plaque. You should also control your sugar intake to minimize bacterial growth that can cause disease.
It's also important for you to continue regular dental visits during your pregnancy. Your dentist will monitor your dental health and initiate treatment if you begin to show signs of disease. Besides professional cleanings, your dentist may also prescribe antibacterial mouthrinses to combat bacteria.
As far as dental procedures, essential treatments like fillings, root canals or extractions are usually considered safe to perform during pregnancy. But elective treatments of a cosmetic nature are best postponed until after your baby's delivery.
One last tip: because of the higher risk of tooth decay or gum disease, be on the lookout for any abnormal signs in your mouth. This includes spots on the teeth, tooth pain or swollen, reddened or bleeding gums. If you see any of these signs, see your dentist as soon as possible.
Your teeth and gums are indeed at risk for disease during pregnancy. But daily hygiene, regular dental care and attention to signs of disease can help keep that danger at bay.
If you would like more information on prenatal 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 “Dental Care During Pregnancy.”
Pain is the body’s warning system: It tells us something is wrong. And depending on the location and intensity of the pain, it can give us vital clues about the problem.
Sometimes, though, it’s not so clear and direct—the pain could arise from any number of sources. Toothaches often fall into this category: Although it’s likely indicating a tooth or gum problem, it could be something else — or even somewhere else.
This is known as referred pain, in which you may feel pain in one location, like your mouth, but the actual source of the problem is somewhere else, like an infected and congested sinus passage. If we’re able to identify the true source and location of the pain, the better the chances of a successful treatment outcome.
Besides sinus infections, there are other conditions like trigeminal neuralgia that can refer pain to the mouth. This painful condition involves the trigeminal nerve, a large nerve running on either side of the face that can become inflamed. Depending on where the inflammation occurs, you might feel the pain at various points along the jaw, feeling much like a toothache.
There’s also the case of an earache mimicking a toothache, and vice-versa. Because of the proximity of the ears to the jaws, there is some nerve interconnectedness between them. For example, an infected or abscessed back tooth could feel a lot like an earache.
These and other possible problems (including jaw joint disorders or teeth grinding) can generate pain as if it were coming from the mouth or a single tooth. To be sure you’ll need to undergo a complete dental examination. If your dentist doesn’t find anything wrong with your mouth, he or she may refer you to a medical doctor to explore other possible causes.
Getting to the root cause of pain can help determine which treatment strategy to pursue to relieve it. Finding the actual source is the most efficient way to understand what a pain sensation is trying to tell us.
Hopefully, you’ve developed a long-term care relationship with your family dentist. Better known as a general dentist, these professionals are the central players in maintaining your oral health, and your first stop when you have a problem with your teeth or gums.
But there are times when a particular dental situation calls for a specialist, a dentist with additional training (as much as three years or more in their area of specialty) and the equipment and advanced techniques for your particular need. Here, then, are some of the other kinds of dental professionals your general dentist may refer you to if you need specialized care.
Periodontist — From the Latin peri (“around”) and dont (“tooth”), this dentist cares for the supporting structures of the teeth, particularly the gums and bone. Besides treating advanced cases of periodontal (gum) disease, they’re also adept at reconstructive and cosmetic gum procedures or the placement of dental implants.
Orthodontist — Although known commonly as the “braces” doctor, orthodontists have a much wider concern: the interaction and alignment of teeth and jaws. With a keen understanding of growth and development, orthodontists can employ a number of treatments, including braces, to bring teeth into better positions that will improve function and appearance.
Endodontist — Teeth damaged from disease or injury may need treatments that involve the interior of the tooth — the pulp and root canals. While your general dentist can perform basic root canal treatments, an endodontist has the added knowledge and equipment to treat more difficult cases.
Prosthodontist — As with a prosthetic limb that replaces a lost arm or leg, prosthodontists specialize in replacing lost teeth (prostho means “artificial”). Prosthodontists can skillfully create functional, life-like dentures, as well as natural tooth and implant crowns to replace portions of visible teeth.
Oral Surgeon — These dentists are skilled in the diagnosis and surgical treatment of conditions involving the head and neck (the “maxillo-facial” region). They often work in consultation with general dentists and other specialties for treating complex mouth conditions. Besides tooth extraction and other dental procedures, oral surgeons can also surgically correct jaw alignment or treat trauma to the face and neck area. They also place grafts to stimulate bone growth for future implants.
If you would like more information on how dental specialties can benefit your 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 “The Dental Universe.”
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