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.”
Miley Cyrus's rise to fame began when she was cast in the Disney series Hannah Montana. She played the title character, Hannah Montana, a famous singing star hiding her true identity, ordinary girl, Miley Stewart. In her real life at the time, Miley Cyrus had her own little secret—she was undergoing orthodontic treatment to straighten her smile.
Like many teenagers (as well as many adults), Cyrus's dental bite wasn't in proper alignment. She could have gone the traditional way by straightening her smile with braces fixed to the front of her teeth. It's an effective treatment, but the metallic hardware can overwhelm a person's appearance.
With her various roles in the public spotlight, Cyrus and her family wanted an effective but out-of-sight method for moving her teeth. They chose a relatively new one called lingual braces. Unlike traditional braces, the hardware for lingual braces is fixed on the back of the teeth (or the tongue side, hence the term “lingual”).
Lingual braces can correct any bite problem labial (“lip”) braces can, just through different mechanics of movement. Its main appeal is that the hardware is hidden behind the teeth, so only you and your orthodontist need know you're wearing braces.
There is also less risk of damage to the mouth or the braces themselves if you're in a sport or profession where you're at high risk for facial blows. And unlike patients with traditional braces, you'll have an unobstructed view of your progress over the course of treatment.
Lingual braces do tend to cost more than traditional braces. Some patients also have difficulty at first with speaking and tongue comfort, though most grow accustomed to the braces within a couple of weeks. Because lingual braces are relatively new, there's been a limited number of orthodontists offering it.
But lingual braces are just one of the ways to straighten teeth. Modern dentistry offers several ways to give you your dream smile. If you have dental problems or would like to improve the look of your smile, please contact us or schedule a consultation, and we can discuss your options. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Lingual Braces” and “The Magic of Orthodontics.”
A full night's sleep isn't a luxury—we all need it for a healthy mind and body. But 50-70 million people in the U.S. aren't getting enough sleep because of a chronic sleep disorder like obstructive sleep apnea (OSA).
OSA happens when a sleeper's airway becomes blocked (most commonly by the tongue), cutting off oxygen to the brain. The body rouses from sleep to overcome the blockage. This awakening could last only a few seconds, after which the person immediately goes back to sleep. But it can occur hundreds of times a night and interrupt deeper sleep needed for a good night's rest.
Sleep disorders like OSA are a significant medical problem that could contribute to serious health issues like high blood pressure or cardiovascular disease. If you're experiencing fatigue, irritability or your family's complaints of you snoring, you should see a physician for diagnosis and treatment options.
You should also consider another health professional who could be helpful in dealing with OSA—and may even be able to provide a treatment option: your dentist. Here's how.
A dentist could discover your OSA. Because of twice-a-year dental visits, dentists often see patients more frequently than other healthcare providers. A properly trained dentist could pick up on signs and symptoms of sleep disorder, including patients falling asleep and even snoring while in the dentist's chair.
Dentists are familiar with the mouth. Few healthcare providers focus on the oral cavity like dentists. Besides the teeth and gums, dentists also have extensive knowledge of the tonsils, uvula and tongue that often play a role in sleep disorders. As such, a dentist may notice abnormalities during routine exams that might contribute to airway obstruction during sleep.
Dentists provide a treatment option. Many OSA patients use a CPAP mask to maintain an open airway during sleep. But CPAP therapy can be uncomfortable for some. For mild to moderate cases of OSA, dentists can create an oral appliance based on the patient's mouth dimensions that prevents the tongue from sinking back into the throat.
If you believe you may have OSA or a similar sleep disorder, by all means speak with your doctor. But also mention it to your dentist—your dental provider might hold the key to a better night's sleep.
If you would like more information on how we could help with your sleep apnea symptoms, 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 “Sleep Disorders & Dentistry.”
Parents have been dealing with their children's teething pain for as long as parents and children have been around. Along the way, the human race has developed different ways to ease the discomfort of this natural process of dental development. While most are good, common-sense measures, one in particular needs to be avoided at all costs—applying topical oral products to the gums containing Benzocaine.
Benzocaine is a topical anesthetic often found in oral products like Anbesol, Orajel or Topex to help ease tooth pain or sensitivity. The agent can be found in gel, spray, ointment or lozenge products sold over-the-counter. As an analgesic, it's considered relatively safe for adults to use.
But that's not the case with infants or younger children. Researchers have found a link between Benzocaine and methemoglobinemia, a potentially fatal blood condition. Methemoglobinemia elevates the amount of a hemoglobin-like protein called methemoglobin, which in high concentrations can lower oxygen levels being transported to the body's cells through the bloodstream.
Because of their smaller anatomy and organ systems, younger children can have severe reactions to increases in methemoglobin, which can range from shortness of breath or fatigue to seizures, coma or even death. That's why you should never use products with Benzocaine or similar numbing agents to ease teething pain. Instead, follow these common sense practices:
- Give your child chilled rubber teething rings, wet washcloths or pacifiers to chew or gnaw on. The combination of cold temperatures and pressure from biting on them will help ease the pain. Just be sure the item isn't frozen, which could cause frost burns to soft tissues.
- For temporary relief from soreness, gently massage your baby's gums with a clean, bare finger or with it wrapped in a clean, wet cloth. The massaging action helps counteract the pressure of the incoming tooth.
- For intense episodes of teething discomfort, ask your healthcare provider about using an over-the-counter pain reliever like acetaminophen or ibuprofen. Be sure you use only the recommended dose size for your child's age.
Teething is in many ways like a storm—it too shall pass. Be sure you're helping your baby weather it safely.
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