Bacteria are bad… right? They can cause diseases like pneumonia, strep throat, and tooth decay. They are the reason we wash our hands with soap (or antibacterial gels) and cook (or refrigerate) our food. Yet it turns out that bacteria are also necessary to keep our bodies healthy — and new research is showing just how important these tiny microorganisms are to our well-being. Here are five facts you should know about bacteria.
The bacteria in our bodies outnumber our cells by a factor of 10 to 1. An estimated 100 trillion bacteria live inside the average human — but because they’re so small, they make up only 1-3 percent of our body mass.
The collection of bacteria we harbor is called our “microbiome.” Like the groundbreaking study of human DNA called the Human Genome Project, recent research is leading to a “map” of our bacterial makeup. This revolutionary study is called — you guessed it — the Human Microbiome Project.
No two people have exactly the same microbiome. But in general, the bacteria that live in a particular spot on the body (the mouth, for example) play the same roles in different individuals. Research has also shown that a healthy microbiome looks very different from a diseased microbiome.
In terms of bacteria, the mouth is one of the best-understood areas of the body. It has long been known that tooth decay can result when “bad” oral bacteria begin to outnumber their “good” counterparts. Now we are gaining a better understanding of how certain lifestyle factors — like cigarette smoking — may influence the bacterial balance in the mouth.
Understanding the microbiome may lead to new treatments for disease. Researchers hope that one day, certain serious diseases could be controlled by bacterial “transplants” that re-balance an individual’s microbiome. Maintaining a healthy microbiome could also help prevent many diseases.
So by all means, don’t stop brushing your teeth or washing your hands — this helps control bacteria that could harm you — but do remember that not all bacteria are harmful. One day, an infusion of bacteria might just cure your illness.
For decades, traditional braces were the only orthodontic choice for moving misaligned teeth. Although they’re quite effective, they can cause discomfort and, for teens especially, embarrassment due to their noticeable metallic appearance.
In recent years, though, technology has produced an alternative to braces that’s proven effective for many types of patients. Besides being less cumbersome and disruptive to everyday life than braces, clear aligners have another advantage that appeals to teens — they’re much less visible.
Introduced in the late 1990s, clear aligners are a system of individual trays made of nearly invisible polyurethane plastic worn over the upper teeth. The trays are computer-generated based on the patient’s individual mouth structure captured in photographs and x-rays. Each tray in the sequence is incrementally smaller in size; the patient begins wearing the first aligner in the series for about two weeks, 20 to 22 hours a day. They then switch to the next tray in the series for about the same amount of time, and continue in this fashion until they’ve worn each aligner in the series.
Besides their improvement in appearance, aligners also have another advantage: unlike traditional braces, aligners can be removed from the mouth for eating or on a limited basis for rare important social occasions. Brushing and flossing are also much easier with aligners, which don’t pose the same access problems as traditional braces.
Clear aligners were once only effective with select types of orthodontic patients, which didn’t always include teens. Over the last decade, however, significant changes to design and additional implements have widened their application to more patients, especially teens. For example, we can now add tiny “power ridges” to the aligner design that give greater precision over desired tooth movement to create a more controlled and efficient force on the teeth. More recent aligners are also being produced with a thinner, more comfortable material.
A thorough orthodontic exam will tell whether your teen is a good candidate for clear aligners. If so, they’ll benefit from a more comfortable and less embarrassing experience while gaining a new smile for life.
If you would like more information on clear aligners, 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 “Clear Aligners for Teens.”
On the big screen, Australian-born actress Margot Robbie may be best known for playing devil-may-care anti-heroes—like Suicide Squad member Harley Quinn and notorious figure skater Tonya Harding. But recently, a discussion of her role in Peter Rabbit proved that in real life, she’s making healthier choices. When asked whether it was hard to voice a character with a speech impediment, she revealed that she wears retainers in her mouth at night, which gives her a noticeable lisp.
“I actually have two retainers,” she explained, “one for my bottom teeth which is for grinding my teeth, and one for my top teeth which is just so my teeth don't move.”
Clearly Robbie is serious about protecting her dazzling smile. And she has good reasons for wearing both of those retainers. So first, let’s talk about retainers for teeth grinding.
Also called bruxism, teeth grinding affects around 10 percent of adults at one time or another, and is often associated with stress. If you wake up with headaches, sore teeth or irritated gums, or your sleeping partner complains of grinding noises at night, you may be suffering from nighttime teeth grinding without even being aware of it.
A type of retainer called an occlusal guard is frequently recommended to alleviate the symptoms of bruxism. Typically made of plastic, this appliance fits comfortably over your teeth and prevents them from being damaged when they rub against each other. In combination with stress reduction techniques and other conservative treatments, it’s often the best way to manage teeth grinding.
Orthodontic retainers are also well-established treatment devices. While appliances like braces or aligners cause teeth to move into better positions, retainers are designed to keep teeth from moving—helping them to stay in those positions. After active orthodontic treatment, a period of retention is needed to allow the bite to stabilize. Otherwise, the teeth can drift right back to their old locations, undoing the time and effort of orthodontic treatment.
So Robbie has the right idea there too. However, for those who don’t relish the idea of wearing a plastic appliance, it’s often possible to bond a wire retainer to the back surfaces of the teeth, where it’s invisible. No matter which kind you choose, wearing a retainer can help keep your smile looking great for many years to come.
If you have questions about teeth grinding or orthodontic retainers, please contact our office or schedule a consultation. You can read more in the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Teeth Grinding” and “The Importance of Orthodontic Retainers.”
The “magic” behind a dental implant’s durability is the special affinity its imbedded titanium post has with bone. Over time bone grows and attaches to the titanium surface to produce a strong and secure hold.
But there’s one important prerequisite for ultimate implant success—there must be an adequate amount of bone available initially to properly position the post during implantation. Otherwise, the implant may not have enough support to position it properly or cover the implant surface completely with bone.
Inadequate bone can be a problem for patients who lost teeth some time before and now desire to an implant restoration. This happens because when teeth are missing, so are the forces they generate during chewing. These forces stimulate new bone growth around the tooth root to replace older, dissolved bone at a healthy rate. If that replacement rate is too slow, the volume and density of bone may gradually diminish.
There is a way, though, to build up the bone for future implantation. Known as bone preservation procedure or a ridge augmentation, it’s a surgical procedure in which the dentist adds bone grafting material to the extraction socket or the bony ridge. The graft serves as a scaffold for new bone cells to grow and multiply. If successful, there will be enough new bone volume after several months of healing to support proper implant placement.
Bone grafting can add more time to the implant process. It may also mean you will not be able to undergo immediate crown placement after implantation (a “tooth in one day” procedure). Instead we would probably suture gum tissue over the implant to protect it and allow for full integration with the bone over a few more months. In the meantime, though, we could fit you with a temporary restoration like a removable partial denture (RPD) or a bonded bridge to improve the appearance of the space while the bone continues to heal.
After several months, your implant will have a better chance of a secure hold and we can then attach a life-like crown. Even if you’ve suffered bone loss, you’ll then have the benefit of not only a durable implant but also a new smile.
You’re satisfied with your smile appearance except for one thing — your teeth aren’t as white and bright as you wish they could be. So, you’ve decided to do something about their dull yellow color.
You’re also thinking about buying a whitening product you can use yourself rather than a professional application. But you still want the answers to two questions: are home whitening kits safe? And, are they effective?
By and large the answer to the first question is yes — if you use it as directed. The whitening agents in FDA-approved products are in safe proportions to other ingredients and won’t cause any major health issues. That said, if you go beyond the instructed dosage you could damage your teeth, especially your enamel, and cause long-term problems with your dental care.
In addition, if you (or a family member) are still in your early teens, you may want to wait until you’re older. Although most permanent teeth have come in by puberty, their enamel still needs to mature. The chemicals in a whitening kit could be too strong for their under-developed enamel. It’s best to get our advice on whether your teeth are mature enough for whitening.
As to their effectiveness, home whitening kits should perform as their labeling indicates. But there are some differences in effects between a home kit and a professional application.
Although a home kit usually uses the same whitening agents (like carbamide peroxide), its strength is much lower than a professional treatment — about 10% of volume compared to around 30% in clinical solutions. This means it will take much longer to achieve the desired whitening effect that a professional application can in fewer sessions, and with less precision. In addition, home kits are only effective on surface staining of the enamel — discoloration within a tooth requires treatment by a dentist.
You can get satisfactory results from a home whitening kit. But before you make a purchase, consult with us first — we can advise you on what to look for in your purchase, as well as determine if your teeth can benefit from whitening at home.
If you would like more information on teeth whitening, 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 “Tooth Whitening Safety Tips.”
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