If you know anything about dental disease, then you know bacteria ranks high on the Usual Suspects list. Tooth decay gets its start from acid produced by bacteria; periodontal (gum) disease is often triggered by bacteria that infect the gums.
But the particular strains of bacteria that can cause dental disease are a small percentage of the 10,000-plus species inhabiting your mouth. The rest, numbering in the millions, are fairly benign—and some, as recent research is now showing, play a sizeable role in protecting your teeth and gums against other malicious bacteria, fungi and viruses.
Dr. Aaron Weinberg, a dental researcher at Case Western Reserve University, has been investigating these protective bacteria for many years. His research began with a scientific conundrum: although the mouth has one of the highest densities of bacterial populations, wounds in the mouth tend to heal quickly.
The answer, he believes, originates with human beta defensins (hBDs), substances produced by cells in the lining of the mouth that are natural antibiotics against disease. He has found that certain bacteria actually help stimulate their production.
This isn't just an interesting fact about the body's defenses and immune system. During his research, Dr. Weinberg was able to identify the agent within the bacteria that triggered hBD production. This has opened up a new line of research: The possibility that harnessing this agent might help assist in our treatment of infection by boosting the body's defensive capabilities.
For example, researchers have proposed including a form of the agent in toothpaste. Over time, this might stimulate hBD production and guard the mouth against the development of dental diseases like gum disease.
These possibilities all come from our increasing knowledge and understanding of the microscopic world around us, especially in our mouths. Bacteria are much more complex than we may have realized—not all are our enemies, and some are definitely our friends. Learning more may open up new ways to keep our teeth and gums healthy.
Every year 150,000 people, mostly women over age 50, find out they have a painful condition called trigeminal neuralgia. For many it begins as an occasional twinge along the face that steadily worsens until the simple act of chewing or speaking, or even a light touch, sets off excruciating pain.
The source of the pain is the pair of trigeminal nerves that course along each side of the face. Each nerve has three separate branches that provide sensation to the upper, middle and lower areas of the face and jaw.
The problem arises when areas of the myelin sheath, a fatty, insulating covering on nerves, becomes damaged, often because of an artery or vein pressing against it. As a result, the nerve can become hypersensitive to stimuli and transmit pain at even the slightest trigger. It may also fail to stop transmitting even after the stimulation that caused it is over.
Although the condition may not always be curable, there are various ways to effectively manage it. The most conservative way is with medications that block the nerve from transmitting pain signals to the brain, coupled with drugs that help stabilize the nerve and decrease abnormal firing.
If medication isn't enough to relieve symptoms, there may be some benefit from more invasive treatments. One technique is to insert a thin needle into the nerve to selectively damage nerve fibers to prevent them from firing. Another microsurgical procedure attempts to relocate the nerve away from a blood vessel that may be compressing it.
The latter procedure has some higher risks such as facial numbness or decreased hearing, and is often better suited for younger patients. Older patients may benefit more from the needle insertion procedure previously mentioned or a directed beam of high-dose radiation to alter the nerve.
To learn the best options for you, you should first undergo a neurological exam to verify you have trigeminal neuralgia and to rule out other causes. From there, you and your doctor can decide the best course of treatment for your age and individual condition.
Trigeminal neuralgia can be an unpleasant experience. But there are tried and true ways to minimize its effect on your life.
If you would like more information on trigeminal neuralgia, 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 “Trigeminal Neuralgia.”
During this year's National Public Health Week in April, health issues like vaping and the opioid crisis are taking a back seat to what is front and center on everyone's mind: the novel coronavirus (COVID-19). This highly contagious viral infection is upending business as usual for most of the world in a way unlike anything we've experienced. Nothing is “normal” right now, including dental care.
As with other aspects of daily life, you can expect disruptions in dental care because of COVID-19, especially involving routine visits. But with that said, we're working hard to ensure your teeth and gums aren't overlooked during this global crisis. We are here for you, so please call us for any questions you may have, and especially if you are experiencing dental pain.
If you do need to visit the dentist for treatment, you might be concerned about potentially exposing yourself or others to COVID-19. Like every business that interacts with the public and especially all healthcare providers, dental offices are implementing extra precautions during this time to protect both patients and staff against infection.
This isn't something new: The dental profession as a whole has strict protocols for preventing infection that have been in place for several years. Infection control is a top priority for dentists at all times, not just during outbreaks like COVID-19. Here are some of the things we do—and are expanding because of the novel coronavirus—to keep you safe during dental appointments.
Barrier protection. Dental providers routinely use disposable items like gloves, face masks or eyewear to prevent disease spread during procedures that involve close contact with patients. For extra precautions with COVID-19, we're adding more of this type of barrier protection.
Sterilization and waste disposal. Instruments and equipment that we use repeatedly are thoroughly sterilized to remove all microorganisms, including coronavirus, from their surfaces. For disposable items used during treatment, we keep these separate from common waste and dispose of them according to strict protocols for handling bio-medical waste.
Disinfection. Even though the main pathway for spreading COVID-19 is through respiratory droplets in the air, we're continually disinfecting office and treatment surfaces that the virus might potentially contaminate. In doing so, we're using substances recommended by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC). By the way, you can find a list of such products at //www.americanchemistry.com/Novel-Coronavirus-Fighting-Products-List.pdf.
These are uncertain times for all of us. But while we're cooperating with social distancing and other measures to slow the spread of COVID-19, we're still here partnering with you to keep your family's teeth and gums healthy.
If you would like more information about special dental precautions during this time, don't hesitate to contact us. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine article “Infection Control in the Dental Office.”
We all need a good night's sleep, both in quantity and quality. That's why the Better Sleep Council promotes Better Sleep Month every May with helpful tips on making sure you're not only getting enough sleep, but that it's also restful and therapeutic. The latter is crucial, especially if you have one problem that can diminish sleep quality: nocturnal teeth grinding.
Teeth grinding is the involuntary movement of the jaws outside of normal functioning like eating or speaking. You unconsciously grind teeth against teeth, increasing the pressure of biting forces beyond their normal range. It can occur while awake, but it is more common during sleep.
The habit is fairly widespread in children, thought to result from an immature chewing mechanism. Children normally outgrow the habit, and most healthcare providers don't consider it a major concern.
But teeth grinding can also carry over or arise in adulthood, fueled in large part by stress. It then becomes concerning: Chronic teeth grinding can accelerate normal age-related tooth wear and weaken or damage teeth or dental work. It may also contribute to jaw joint pain and dysfunction related to temporomandibular disorders (TMD).
If you notice frequent jaw tenderness or pain, or a family member says they've heard you grind your teeth at night, you should see us for a full examination. If you are diagnosed with teeth grinding, we can consider different means to bring it under control, depending on your case's severity and underlying causes.
Here are some things you can do:
Alter lifestyle habits. Alcohol and tobacco use have been associated with teeth grinding. To reduce episodes of nighttime teeth grinding, consider modifying (or, as with tobacco, stopping) your use of these and related substances. Altering your lifestyle in this way will likely also improve your overall health.
Manage stress. Teeth grinding can be a way the body “lets off steam” from the accumulated stress of difficult life situations. You may be able to reduce it through better stress management. Learn and practice stress reduction techniques like meditation or other forms of relaxation. You may also find counseling, biofeedback or group therapy beneficial.
Seek dental solutions. In severe cases, there are possible dental solutions to reducing the biting forces generated by teeth grinding. One way is to adjust the bite by removing some of the structure from teeth that may be more prominent than others. We may also be able to create a bite guard to wear at night that prevents teeth from making solid contact with each other.
These and other techniques can be used individually or together to create a customized treatment plan just for you. Minimizing teeth grinding will help ensure you're getting the most out of your sleep time, while protecting your dental health too.
Once they learn to walk, there's no stopping most children. Sometimes it can be a little jarring, as when you discover your toddler on top of the kitchen counter reaching in the cupboard on tip-toes for a snack!
Fortunately, children are fairly resilient. Unfortunately, they're not invincible — some of their adventures could result in physical injuries, especially to the highly vulnerable area of the mouth.
Even if you've carefully “child-proofed” your home, it's still best to be prepared for mishaps. Here are 3 common dental injuries and how to handle them.
Soft tissue injuries. Making contact with the ground or hard objects like furniture can injure the lips, tongue, cheeks or gums and cause bleeding, cuts or bruising. First, clean the area with clean water and a cloth or gauze as best you can, making sure there aren't any trapped pieces of tooth or dirt. Apply gentle, continuous pressure with a clean cloth to control bleeding, and apply ice packs or cold compresses for swelling. Don't apply bleach, aspirin or similar medications to open wounds. If the bleeding won't stop or the wounds look serious or deep, go to an emergency room.
Chipped or displaced tooth. A blunt force mouth injury can chip or push (displace) teeth out of position. In this case try to save any chipped pieces you find — your dentist may be able to re-bond them to the tooth. A displaced tooth is a dental emergency, so contact your dentist immediately. Don't try to re-position the tooth yourself unless it's completely knocked out.
Knocked-out tooth. Actions to take with a knocked-out tooth depend on whether it's a permanent or primary (baby) tooth. If permanent, rinse the tooth with clean water. Handle it by the crown (never by the root) and gently place it back in the empty socket. If that's not possible, place the tooth between your child's cheek and gum (if the child is old enough not to swallow it by mistake. You can also place it in a glass of cold milk. Get to a dentist or an emergency room as soon as possible — minutes count for a successful reattachment. Conversely, don't try to put a primary tooth back in its socket — you could damage the developing permanent tooth beneath the gum line. But do see a dentist as soon as possible for an examination.
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