Posts for: May, 2014
You've probably never thought of the saliva swishing around in your mouth as amazing. The fact is, though, life would be a lot harder without it. Digestion would be quite unpleasant without its enzymes breaking down food during chewing; the soft tissues of our mouth would suffer more environmental abuse without its protective wash; and without its ability to neutralize acid, our tooth enamel would erode.
What's also amazing is what saliva can reveal about our health. As researchers discover more about this phenomenon, it's leading to better and less invasive ways to diagnose disease.
Similar to blood, saliva is composed of proteins containing RNA and DNA molecules which together hold the genetic instructions the human body needs to reproduce cells. We can therefore test saliva for health conditions as we do with blood, but with less invasive collection techniques and far less hazard to healthcare workers from blood-borne diseases. For example, doctors now have a saliva test that can detect the presence of HIV viruses that cause Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS). Another saliva test will soon be available that can test for hepatitis.
Unfortunately, only a few such tests now exist. Researchers must first identify and then catalog saliva's biomarkers, protein molecules that correspond to specific health conditions — a daunting task since most are marked not by one but hundreds of proteins. Then it's a matter of developing diagnostic devices that can detect these biomarkers.
Although that too is a huge task, existing technology like mass spectrometry (already used to help detect early stages of oral cancer) could be a promising starting point. This process measures the portion of the light spectrum emitted by a molecule, a feature that could help identify a saliva protein by its emitted light signature.
Thanks to the work of these researchers, many of them in the dental profession, information about our bodies contained in saliva may soon be accessible. That accessibility may lead to earlier diagnoses and more successful treatment outcomes.
If you would like more information on saliva and your oral 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 “Secrets of Saliva.”
Growing up with a dentist stepdad, Cheryl Burke of Dancing with the Stars heard a lot over the years about the importance of good oral hygiene — in particular, the benefits of using dental floss.
“My dad would say, ‘make sure you floss,’ but I never really listened to him. I was very, very stubborn,” Cheryl told Dear Doctor magazine recently in an exclusive interview. Cheryl admits this stubbornness took its toll, in the form of tooth decay. “I definitely had my share of cavities,” Cheryl recalled.
Cavities can form when food particles, particularly sugar and carbohydrates, are not effectively cleaned from the spaces between teeth. These particles are then broken down by bacteria naturally present in the mouth, resulting in the production of acids that attack the tooth enamel.
When she reached her twenties, Cheryl decided she really needed to step up her oral hygiene and cultivate an asset so important to a professional dancer: a beautiful smile. And once she did, cavities became a distant memory.
“I think when you do floss frequently, it helps to reduce the chances of getting cavities,” Cheryl said. “It took me a while to figure it out.” Now Cheryl flosses after every meal. “I carry floss with me wherever I go. I have no shame busting out my floss in the middle of a restaurant!” She declared.
Dental decay is actually a worldwide epidemic, especially among kids. Untreated, it can lead to pain, tooth loss, and, because it is an infectious disease, it may even have more serious systemic (whole body) health consequences. The good thing is that it is entirely preventable through good oral hygiene at home and regular professional cleanings here at the office.
If it has been a while since you or your children have seen us for a cleaning and check-up, or you just want to learn more about preventing tooth decay, please contact us to schedule an appointment for a consultation. If you would like to read Dear Doctor's entire interview with Cheryl Burke, please see “Cheryl Burke.” Dear Doctor also has more on “Tooth Decay: The World's Oldest & Most Widespread Disease.”
Q: I’ve heard about dental implants, but I’m still not sure exactly what they are. Can you explain?
A: It’s no wonder you’ve heard of them: Dental implants have been called the most exciting advance in dentistry in the last 50 years! Essentially, the implant itself is a small, screw-shaped post that is placed in the jaw bone (underneath the gums), and serves as a replacement for the tooth’s roots. It is attached to a lifelike crown (a replacement for the visible part of the tooth) via a sturdy connector called an abutment. Dental implants offer results that can last a lifetime, and have the highest documented success rate of any tooth replacement system — over 95%.
Q: How does a dental implant work?
A: A few decades ago, it was discovered that titanium metal has a unique property: It can actually become fused to living bone tissue in a process called osseointegration. Implants are made of titanium, and take advantage of this feature. Solidly anchored in place by both osseointegration and mechanical forces, dental implants provide a strong and durable base for several different kinds of natural-looking and fully functional replacement teeth.
Q: What are dental implants used for?
A: One dental implant can be used to replace just one missing tooth with a crown that matches your own teeth. Two or more dental implants can be used to support a fixed bridge (a series of three or more replacement teeth) without requiring any work to be done on the adjacent, healthy teeth. Four or more implants can support an entire arch (complete top or bottom set) of replacement teeth that won’t slip and will never need to be removed — a great alternative to traditional removable dentures! Implants can also be used to support some kinds of removable dentures, and in certain orthodontic procedures.
Q: What is the procedure for getting a dental implant?
A: The implant process begins with a consultation, a thorough exam, and a set of diagnostic images. Placing one or more implants involves minor surgery, which is typically performed in the dental office and requires only local anesthesia. After the area has been numbed, a small opening is made in the tissue of gums and jaw bone, and the implant is carefully inserted. In some situations, a temporary replacement tooth may be placed on the implant immediately; otherwise, the implant will be allowed to rest for a period of weeks. In either case, the permanent replacement teeth will be secured to the implants at a subsequent visit.
Q: What are the advantages of an implant over other tooth replacement methods?
A: We already mentioned the high success rate and the long life of dental implants. Another advantage is the fact that implants stop the deterioration of bone in the jaw that inevitably follows tooth loss. Bone loss, a “hidden” consequence of tooth loss, is what tends to make people who are missing teeth look older than they really are. Implants need no special care beyond what you would give your natural teeth, and their longevity can make them a cost-effective investment in the long term. Plus, they look, function and “feel” just like your natural teeth.
If you’d like to find out more about dental implants, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also read the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Dental Implants” and “The Hidden Consequences of Losing Teeth.”