Posts for: September, 2020
Like the rest of healthcare, antibiotics have transformed dentistry. Advanced oral infections that once eluded successful treatment are routinely stopped with the use of these “wonder drugs.” But their overuse over the years has given rise to dangerous “superbugs” resistant to many antibiotics.
Antibiotics are one of the 20th Century's most significant healthcare achievements. Drugs like penicillin played a major role ending the global threat of tuberculosis, cholera and bacterial meningitis. Over the last few decades, more antibiotics have been developed to defend against an even wider array of bacterial dangers.
But along the way doctors and dentists began prescribing antibiotics for all manner of illnesses including viral infections like colds or flu for which they're less effective. They've also been increasingly used as a preventive measure, including inclusion in animal feed to fight disease.
But our tiny biological nemeses are adaptable. As bacterial strains come in contact with greater amounts of antibiotics, individual bacterium that survive transmit their resistance to subsequent generations. This can produce new strains like Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) that are resistant to methicillin and other common antibiotics that once contained them.
There's deep concern that these new resistant strains, often recent incarnations of old diseases once thought defeated, will lead to higher rates of sickness and death. Increasing resistance could also make common procedures like those performed by dentists and oral surgeons, much riskier to undertake.
To combat this, pharmaceutical companies are racing to create new drugs to compensate. Recently, they've received an encouraging sign of hope in this battle from an unlikely source: viruses. Researchers in Tel Aviv, Israel have discovered an antagonistic protein to bacteria among a group of viruses called bacteriophages. The protein, injected into a bacterium, commandeers the cell's DNA function to aid virus reproduction, which kills the host.
In the words of one researcher, this makes these particular “enemy of our enemy” viruses our “friend.” Although the discovery is still a long way from practical use in antibiotics, harnessing it in future drug versions could help pack a greater punch against resistant bacteria.
In the meantime, providers and patients alike must practice and advocate for stricter protocols regarding the use of antibiotics. The viability of tomorrow's healthcare is on the line.
There's ample evidence tobacco smoking increases your risk for tooth decay and periodontal (gum) disease. But the same may be true for electronic cigarettes (E-cigs): Although millions have turned to “vaping” believing it's a safer alternative to smoking, there are growing signs it might also be harmful to oral health.
An E-cig is a device with a chamber that holds a liquid solution. An attached heater turns the liquid into a vapor the user inhales, containing nicotine, flavorings and other substances. Because it doesn't contain tar and other toxic substances found in tobacco, many see vaping as a safer way to get a nicotine hit.
But a number of recent research studies seem to show vaping isn't without harmful oral effects. A study from Ohio State University produced evidence that E-cig vapor interferes with the mouth's bacterial environment, or oral microbiome, by disrupting the balance between harmful and beneficial bacteria in favor of the former. Such a disruption can increase the risk for gum disease.
Other studies from the University of Rochester, New York and Universit? Laval in Quebec, Canada also found evidence for vaping's negative effects on oral cells. The Rochester study found astringent flavorings and other substances in vaping solutions can damage cells. The Quebec study found a staggering increase in the normal oral cell death rate from 2% to 53% in three days after exposure to E-cig vapor.
Nicotine, E-cig's common link with tobacco, is itself problematic for oral health. This addictive chemical constricts blood vessels and reduces blood flow to the mouth's tissues. This not only impedes the delivery of nutrients to individual cells, but also reduces available antibodies necessary to fight bacterial infections. Regardless of how nicotine enters the body—whether through smoking or vaping—it can increase the risk of gum disease.
These are the first studies of their kind, with many more needed to fully understand the effects of vaping on the mouth. But the preliminary evidence they do show should cause anyone using or considering E-cigs as an alternative to smoking to think twice. Your oral health may be hanging in the balance.
When you floss (you do floss, right?), you probably notice a sticky, yellowish substance called plaque stuck to the thread. This thin film of tiny food particles and bacteria is the reason you floss and brush in the first place: Because it's the main trigger for tooth decay and gum disease, removing it decreases your risk for disease.
But this isn't the only form of plaque you should be concerned about. That same sticky substance can also interact with your saliva and harden into what's commonly known as tartar. Dentists, however, have a different term: They refer to these calcified deposits as calculus. And it's just as much a source of disease as its softer counterpart.
You might have noticed that this form of plaque has the same name as an advanced type of mathematics. Although dental calculus has little in common with algebra's cousin, both terms trace their origins back to the same linguistic source. The word “calculus” in Latin means “small stone;” it became associated with math because stone pebbles were once used by merchants long ago to calculate sales and trades.
The term became associated with the substance on your teeth because the hardened plaque deposits resemble tiny stones or minerals—and they can be “as hard as a rock” to remove. In fact, because they adhere so firmly it's virtually impossible to remove calculus deposits with brushing or flossing alone. To effectively eliminate calculus from tooth surfaces (including under the gum line) requires the skills and special dental tools of dentists or dental hygienists.
That's why we recommend a minimum of two dental cleanings a year to remove any calculus buildup, as well as any pre-calcified plaque you might have missed with daily hygiene. Reducing both plaque and calculus on your teeth fully minimizes your risk of dental disease. What's more, removing the yellowish substance may also brighten your smile.
That's not to say daily brushing and flossing aren't important. By removing the bulk of plaque buildup, you reduce the amount that eventually becomes calculus. In other words, it takes both a daily oral hygiene practice and regular dental visits to keep your teeth healthy and beautiful.