Posts for: August, 2018
Today’s dental care has advanced leaps and bound over the last century. But these advances are tiny steps compared to what many believe may be coming in the next few decades. This optimism arises from our growing understanding of deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA), the chain-like molecule that houses the genetic instructions for the growth, function and reproduction of every cell in the body.
As researchers unlock the secrets of this vast genetic blueprint unique to each individual the possible applications from this knowledge are astounding. Here are just a few possibilities that could one day impact everyone’s oral health.
Preventing tooth decay. This rampant disease, triggered by bacteria (particularly Streptococcus mutans), can cause extensive damage in otherwise healthy teeth. There’s already some indications from the study of genomics that we may be able to stop or at least hinder this disease in its tracks. Already we’re seeing advances in gene therapy that might be able to inhibit the growth of Strep mutans and reduce its colonies in the mouth.
Growing new teeth. Composed of various layers, a natural tooth is part of a dynamic system of bone and gum ligaments that allow movement, protection and nourishment. Although dental implants are the closest and most advanced artificial approximation we now have to them, implants still can’t fully measure up to the function and capabilities of a natural tooth. But further insight into the genetic code may one day allow us to reproduce a living replacement tooth for a lost one.
Harnessing saliva for detecting disease. The impact of genomics related to the mouth could impact more than just the mouth itself. Researchers have discovered that saliva contains genetic information similar to blood, urine and other bodily fluids with markers for various disease conditions. Unlike other fluids, though, saliva is relatively easy to collect. The key is new equipment and testing protocols to take advantage of the information already available in a single drop of saliva.
These examples illustrate the range of possibilities for better health in the future: a reduction in dental disease early in life; new and better ways to restore missing teeth; and quicker ways to diagnose dangerous health conditions.
If you would like more information on new developments in 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 “The Future of Dentistry: A Sneak Preview of Your Dental Future.”
About one American baby in 700 is born with some form of lip or palate cleft—and the percentage is even higher in other parts of the world. At one time this kind of birth defect sentenced a child to a lifetime of social stigma and related health issues. But thanks to a surgical breakthrough over sixty years ago, cleft defects are now routinely treated and repaired.
Oral and facial clefts happen because a child’s facial structure fails to develop normally during pregnancy. This causes gaps or “clefts” to occur in various parts of the mouth or face like the upper lip, the palate (roof of the mouth), the nose or (more rarely) in the cheek or eye region. Clefts can have no tissue fusion at all (a “complete” cleft) or a limited amount (an “incomplete” cleft), and can affect only one side of the face (“unilateral”) or both (“bilateral”).
There was little that could be done up until the early 1950s. That’s when a U.S. Navy surgeon, Dr. Ralph Millard, stationed in Korea noticed after reviewing a series of cleft photos that tissue needed to repair a cleft was most often already present but distorted by the defect. From that discovery, he developed techniques that have since been refined in the ensuing decades to release the distorted tissue and move it to its proper location.
This revolutionary breakthrough has evolved into a multi-stage approach for cleft repair that often requires a team effort from several dental and medical professionals, including oral surgeons, orthodontists and general dentists. The approach may involve successive surgeries over several years with dental care front and center to minimize the threat of decay, maintain proper occlusion (the interaction between the upper and lower teeth, or “bite”), or restore missing teeth with crowns, bridgework or eventually dental implants.
While it’s quite possible this process can span a person’s entire childhood and adolescence, the end result is well worth it. Because of these important surgical advances, a cleft defect is no longer a life sentence of misery.
If you would like more information on treatment for a cleft lip or palate, 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 “Cleft Lip & Cleft Palate.”
While it doesn’t garner the star power of blood, saliva is still an important bodily fluid. A true multi-tasker, saliva contributes in many ways to the function and health of the body, from stronger teeth to more efficient digestion.
Here are six ways saliva helps your mouth and body function properly and stay healthy.
The mouth’s natural cleanser. Bacteria are responsible for much of the dental disease that plagues us, particularly tooth decay and gum disease. Saliva clears the mouth of food remnants, bacteria’s primary feeding source, after we eat. This leaves a cleaner mouth and fewer bacteria to cause infection.
The immune system’s partner. Saliva contains an antibody called Immunoglobulin A (IgA) that attacks disease-causing microorganisms. Along with secreting other antibacterial agents like lactoferrin and lyzozyme that curb the growth and development of bacteria, saliva serves as the body’s first line of defense against pathogens entering through the mouth.
Acid neutralizer. The optimal oral environment is a neutral pH of 7. Many of our foods and beverages, though, are highly acidic, which can raise the mouth’s acid level. The acidic environment causes the minerals in tooth enamel to soften and dissolve (a process called de-mineralization). Saliva restores the balance by neutralizing any remaining acid after we eat (a process that takes about 30 to 60 minutes).
Mineral replacer. Even under normal conditions, enamel will de-mineralize to some extent whenever the mouth becomes acidic. Saliva restores some of the enamel’s lost minerals like calcium and phosphate while it’s neutralizing acid. If fluoride is also present in saliva from fluoridated drinking water or toothpaste, it too is absorbed by the enamel making it stronger and more resistant to acid attacks.
Digestion enhancer. Saliva lubricates the mouth while we eat, making it easier for us to chew (and taste) our food. Saliva also releases the enzyme amylase as we chew to break down starches before the food enters our stomach. The end result is more efficient and comfortable digestion.
The wave of the future in diagnostics. Like blood and urine, saliva contains genetic and disease markers that could tell a physician if a patient has a certain condition. Since collecting a saliva sample is much easier than with these other bodily fluids, diagnosing disease with saliva will become more prevalent as more calibrated devices reach the market.
If you would like more information on the role of saliva in the body, 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 “Saliva.”