Indianapolis Downtown Full Service Dentist Blog

Posts for tag: oral health

By Renew Dental Arts, LLC
October 07, 2020
Category: Oral Health
Tags: oral health   vaping  
FarFromaSaferAlternativetoSmokingVapingCouldRuinYourOralHealth

E-cigarettes have taken the world by storm, especially among younger adults. The reason: the widespread perception that “vaping” is healthier than smoking tobacco.

But a deeper look at this wildly popular habit reveals a product that doesn't live up to its reputation as smoking's “safer alternative.” One aspect of health that's especially in harm's way is the mouth: Teeth and gums could in fact be just as prone to disease with an e-cigarette as the tobacco variety.

E-cigarettes are handheld devices that hold a cartridge of liquid vaping product, which is then heated to produce an inhalable vapor. Technically, it's an aerosol in which solid chemical compounds within the vaping liquid are suspended in the vapor. The aerosolized vapor thus serves as a transporting medium for these chemicals to enter the user's body.

It's these various chemicals inhaled during vaping that most concern dentists. Top on the list: nicotine, the addictive chemical also found in regular tobacco. Among its other effects, nicotine constricts blood vessels in the mouth, causing less blood flow of nutrients and infection-fighting cells to the gums and teeth. This not only heightens the risk for gum disease, but may also mask initial infection symptoms like swelling or redness.

Flavorings, a popular feature of vaping solutions, may also contribute to oral problems. These substances can form new chemical compounds during the vaping process that can irritate the mouth's inner membranes and trigger inflammation. There's also evidence that e-cigarette flavorings, particularly menthol, might soften enamel and increase the risk of tooth decay.

Other chemicals commonly found in vaping solutions are thought to increase plaque formation, the sticky film on teeth that is a major cause for dental disease. And known carcinogens like formaldehyde, also included in many formulations, raise the specter of oral cancer.

These are just a few of the possible ways vaping may damage oral health. Far from a safe tobacco alternative, there's reason to believe it could be just as harmful. The wise choice for your body and your mouth is not to smoke—or vape.

If you would like more information on the oral hazards of e-cigarettes, 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 “Vaping and Oral Health.”

By Renew Dental Arts, LLC
March 21, 2020
Category: Oral Health
KidsCatsandCaninesDentalDevelopmentThroughtheAges

What do young saber tooth tigers, which have been extinct about 10,000 years, have in common with human kids today? At first glance, not a lot. Smilodon fatalis, the big cat of North America, reached adulthood at around age three and weighed up to 600 pounds. But these ice-age mammals are probably best known for their dagger-like canine teeth, which (as shown by many well-preserved skeletons) grew up to 7 inches long. And that’s where the comparison between kids and kitties gets interesting.

The toothy felines had primary (baby) teeth and adult teeth, which developed in a similar way to human dentition. The primary teeth came in first, persisted during the young cat’s development, and shared space in the mouth as the adult teeth were erupting (growing in) — with one big difference. According to a recent study reported in the academic journal PLOS ONE, those colossal canines grew at an astonishing rate: up to 6 millimeters per month! By comparison, human primary teeth emerge from the gums at around 0.7mm per month, while permanent teeth may grow up to 2mm per month.

It’s understandable why those tiger teeth developed so rapidly: Life in the Ice Age was hard, and predators needed every advantage just to stay alive. But while human baby teeth take longer to develop (and to go away), they, too, are vitally important. For one thing, the primary teeth let kids bite, chew, speak (and smile) properly, until they are replaced by adult teeth — a process that isn’t usually finished until a child reaches the age of 12-13. So those “baby” teeth allow kids to have good nutrition — and positive social interactions — for a significant part of childhood!

There’s another important thing primary teeth do before they’re gone: They help ensure that the succeeding teeth come in properly, by holding a space in the jaw that will later be filled by a permanent tooth. If baby teeth are lost prematurely, those spaces can close up, resulting in permanent teeth that emerge too close together, or in the wrong places. This condition, called malocclusion (bad bite), can usually be corrected by orthodontics. But it’s better to avoid the inconvenience (and cost) of braces, if possible.

That’s why it’s so important to take care of your child’s baby teeth. Even though they won’t be around forever, they have a vital role to play right now. So be sure proper attention is paid to your child’s oral hygiene: That means avoiding sugar, and remembering to brush and floss every day. And be sure to come in regularly for routine exams, cleanings, and needed care. It’s the best way to keep those little teeth from “going extinct” too soon!

If you have questions or concerns about your child’s baby teeth, please call our office to schedule a consultation. You can read more in the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Importance of Baby Teeth” and “Early Loss of Baby Teeth.”

By Renew Dental Arts, LLC
December 02, 2019
Category: Oral Health
Tags: oral health   gum disease  
These4HabitsCouldHelpYouAvoidGumDisease

Here’s the bad news about periodontal (gum) disease: It’s a leading cause for tooth loss. Even worse: Half of adults over 30 will have some form of it during their lifetime.

But here’s the good news: If caught early, we can often treat and stop gum disease before it can do substantial harm to your mouth. And the best news of all—you may be able to avoid a gum infection altogether by adopting a few healthy habits.

Here are 4 habits you can practice to prevent a gum infection from happening.

Practice daily brushing and flossing. Gum disease is a bacterial infection most often arising from dental plaque, a thin film of bacteria and food particles that accumulates on teeth. Removing plaque daily with brushing and flossing will reduce your chances of a gum infection. And be sure it’s daily—missing just a few days is enough for gum inflammation to get started.

Get regular dental cleanings and checkups. Even the most diligent personal hygiene can miss plaque, which may then harden into a calcified form impossible to remove with brushing and flossing called calculus (tartar). At least twice-a-year professional dental cleanings will clear away any remnant plaque and tartar, which can greatly reduce your risk for dental disease.

Make gum-friendly lifestyle changes. Smoking more than doubles your chances of gum disease. Likewise, a sugar-heavy diet, which feeds disease-causing bacteria, also makes you more susceptible to infection. Quitting smoking, cutting back on alcohol consumption and following a dental-friendly diet could boost your teeth and gum health and avoid infection.

Watch for signs of infection. Although you can greatly reduce your risk of gum disease, you can’t always bring that risk to zero. So, be aware of the signs of gum disease: sometimes painful, swollen, reddened or bleeding gums. If you notice any of these signs, make a dental appointment—the sooner you’re diagnosed and begin treatment, the less likely gum disease will ruin your dental health.

If you would like more information on preventing gum disease, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation.

By Renew Dental Arts, LLC
November 12, 2019
Category: Oral Health
Tags: oral health   vaping  
VapingCouldBeJustasHarmfultoYourTeethandGumsasSmoking

The electronic cigarette (e-cig), the much-acclaimed smoking alternative, has recently been linked to hundreds of lung-related illnesses and deaths among otherwise healthy young adults. But dentists were actually among the first to sound alarm bells on the potential harm of “vaping,” particularly to dental health.

If you're vaping as a substitute for smoking, you may be trading one set of oral health risks for another. Many dentists believe vaping may be no safer for your mouth than traditional tobacco.

An e-cig is a small, handheld device that holds a mixture of water, flavoring and chemicals. The device heats the liquid until it becomes a gaseous aerosol the user inhales into their lungs. Proponents say it's a safer and cleaner alternative to smoking. But, like cigarettes, vaping mixtures can contain nicotine. This chemical constricts blood vessels, decreasing nutrients and infection-fighting agents to the gums and increasing the risk of gum disease.

And although vaping flavorings are FDA-approved as a food additive, there's some evidence as an aerosol they irritate the mouth's inner membranes and cause mouth dryness similar to smoking. Vaping liquids also contain propylene glycol for moisture preservation, which some studies have shown increases a buildup of plaque, the bacterial film most responsible for dental disease.

All of these different effects from vaping can create a perfect storm in the mouth for disease. So, rather than switch to vaping, consider quitting the tobacco habit altogether. It's a solid thing to do for your teeth and gums, not to mention the rest of the body.

As we commemorate the Great American Smokeout on November 21, this month is the perfect time to take action. Here are some tips to help you kick the habit.

Don't try to quit all at once. Your body has developed a physical connection with nicotine, so quitting “cold turkey” can be extremely difficult and unpleasant. Although different approaches work for different people, you may find it easier to overcome your habit by gradually reducing the number of cigarettes you smoke each day.

Enroll in a cessation program. There are a number of step-by-step programs, some involving medication, that can help you quit smoking. Talk to us or your doctor about using a cessation program to end your tobacco habit.

Seek support from others. Beating the smoking habit can be tough if you're trying to do it solo. Instead, enlist the help of family and friends to support you and keep you on track. Consider also joining a supervised support group for quitting smoking near you or online.

Smoking can harm your dental health and vaping may be just as harmful. Distancing yourself from both habits will help you maintain a healthier smile and a healthier life.

If you would like more information about the effects of vaping and tobacco use, please contact us or schedule a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Vaping and Oral Health” and “Smoking and Gum Disease.”

By Renew Dental Arts, LLC
October 13, 2019
Category: Oral Health
Tags: oral health  
ThereAreaLotofBacteriainYourMouthbutOnlyaFewMeanYouHarm

Say “bacteria,” especially in the same sentence with “disease” or “infection,” and you may trigger an immediate stampede for the hand sanitizer. The last thing most people want is to come in contact with these “menacing” microorganisms.

If that describes you, however, you’re too late. If you’re of adult age, there are already 100 trillion of these single-celled organisms in and on your body, outnumbering your own cells 10 to 1. But don’t panic: Of these 10,000-plus species only a handful can cause you harm—most are either harmless or beneficial, including in your mouth.

Thanks to recent research, we know quite a bit about the different kinds of bacteria in the mouth and what they’re doing. We’ve also learned that the mouth’s microbiome (the interactive environment of microscopic organisms in a particular location) develops over time, especially during our formative years. New mothers, for example, pass on hundreds of beneficial species of bacteria to their babies via their breast milk.

As our exposure to different bacteria grows, our immune system is also developing—not only fighting bacteria that pose a threat, but also learning to recognize benevolent species. All these factors over time result in a sophisticated, interrelated bacterial environment unique to every individual.

Of course, it isn’t all sweetness and light in this microscopic world. The few harmful oral bacteria, especially those that trigger tooth decay or periodontal (gum) disease, can cause enormous, irreparable damage to the teeth and gums. It’s our goal as dentists to treat these diseases and, when necessary, fight against harmful microorganisms with antibacterial agents and antibiotics.

But our growing knowledge of this “secret world” of bacteria is now influencing how we approach dental treatment. A generalized application of antibiotics, for example, could harm beneficial bacteria as well as harmful ones. In trying to do good we may run the risk of disrupting the mouth’s microbiome balance—with adverse results on a patient’s long-term oral health.

The treatment strategies of the future will take this into account. While stopping dental disease will remain the top priority, the treatments of the future will seek to do it without harming the delicate balance of the mouth’s microbiome.

If you would like more information on the role of bacteria in 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 “New Research Show Bacteria Essential to Health.”

By Renew Dental Arts, LLC
October 03, 2019
Category: Oral Health
Tags: oral health  
CelebrateWorldSmileDayWithMoreAttractiveTeeth

The smiley face: It’s been around forever. Except it hasn’t—someone created it. No, not Forrest Gump (but good guess!), but graphic artist Harvey Ball in 1963 to help boost employee morale at an insurance company. Do you know what else Harvey Ball came up with? World Smile Day: Beginning in 1999, Ball began promoting the first Friday in October as a day to encourage smiles and acts of kindness. But there’s no need to limit smiles to one day. We hope you treat every day as World Smile Day—to make your corner of the world a little brighter.

What can you do to show your support? Well to begin with, smile—a lot. And also do things to make other people smile. We don’t want you to hold back because you’re not completely satisfied with your smile. If you’d like to get that wonderful smile of yours in better shape, here are some ideas:

Have your teeth professionally cleaned. Having your teeth cleaned at the dental office is one of the best things you can do to prevent dental disease. Dental plaque makes your teeth look dull and dingy and can lead to gum disease and cavities. A professional cleaning to rid your teeth of any built-up plaque and tartar (hardened plaque) with a follow-up polish can help your teeth look great!

Brighten up your smile. You can turn up the brightness volume on your teeth with a tooth whitening application. There are whitening products you can buy over the counter, but for best results see your dentist for a professional whitening. Dentists can better control the degree of brightness and their professional-grade solutions often last longer.

Upgrade your teeth’s appearance. You may have a great looking smile—except for that chip, discoloration or slight gap between a couple of teeth. There are a number of ways, many quite affordable, to improve your teeth’s appearance. Your dentist can bond color-matched composite resin to your teeth to “fill in” chips or other blemishes. And a veneer, a thin layer of porcelain bonded to the face of a tooth, can mask mild to moderate dental blemishes.

There are other “smile changers” like orthodontics, crowns or dental implants that are a bit more extensive. Depending on your needs and expectations, these can give you a “smile makeover” that will get you ready for future World Smile Days.

In the meantime, talk to us about how you can perk up your smile. An attractive smile is much easier to share with the world.

If you would like more information about smile enhancements, please contact us to schedule a consultation.

By Renew Dental Arts, LLC
November 27, 2018
Category: Oral Health
TakePositiveActionwithYourChildsThumb-SuckingHabit

As a parent you’re concerned with a number of issues involving your child’s health, not the least of which involves their teeth. One of the most common is thumb-sucking.

While later thumb-sucking is a cause for concern, it’s quite normal and not viewed as harmful in infant’s and very young children. This universal habit is rooted in an infant swallowing pattern: all babies tend to push the tongue forward against the back of the teeth when they swallow, which allows them to form a seal while breast or bottle feeding. Infants and young children take comfort or experience a sense of security from sucking their thumb, which simulates infant feeding.

Soon after their primary teeth begin to erupt, the swallowing pattern changes and they begin to rest the tongue on the roof of the mouth just behind the front teeth when swallowing. For most children thumb sucking begins to fade as their swallowing pattern changes.

Some children, though, continue the habit longer even as their permanent teeth are beginning to come in. As they suck their thumb the tongue constantly rests between the front teeth, which over time may interfere with how they develop. This can cause an “open bite” in which the upper and lower teeth don’t meet properly, a problem that usually requires orthodontic treatment to correct it.

For this reason, dentists typically recommend encouraging children to stop thumb-sucking by age 3 (18-24 months to stop using a pacifier). The best approach is positive reinforcement — giving appropriate rewards over time for appropriate behavior: for example, praising them as a “big” boy or girl when they have gone a certain length of time without sucking their thumb or a pacifier. You should also use training or “Sippy” cups to help them transition from a bottle to a regular cup, which will further diminish the infant swallowing pattern and need for thumb-sucking.

Habits like thumb-sucking in young children should be kept in perspective: the habit really isn’t a problem unless it goes on too long. Gentle persuasion, along with other techniques we can help you with, is the best way to help your child eventually stop.

If you would like more information on thumb sucking, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Thumb Sucking in Children” and “How Thumb Sucking Affects the Bite.”

By Renew Dental Arts, LLC
January 18, 2018
Category: Oral Health
Tags: oral health  
TheHealthofYourMouthCouldAffecttheRestofYourBody

“No man is an island….” So wrote the poet John Donne four centuries ago. And while he meant the unity of humanity, the metaphor could equally apply to the interdependence of the various parts of the human body, including the mouth. According to recent scientific research, your mouth isn’t an “island” either.

Much of this research has focused on periodontal (gum) disease, an infection most often caused by bacterial plaque that triggers inflammation in the gum tissues. Although an important part of the body’s defenses, if the inflammation becomes chronic it can damage the gums and weaken their attachment to the teeth. Supporting bone may also deteriorate leading eventually to tooth loss.

Avoiding that outcome is good reason alone for treating and controlling gum disease.  But there’s another reason—the possible effect the infection may have on the rest of the body, especially if you have one or more systemic health issues. It may be possible for bacteria to enter the bloodstream through the diseased gum tissues to affect other parts of the body or possibly make other inflammatory conditions worse.

One such condition is diabetes, a disease which affects nearly one person in ten. Normally the hormone insulin helps turn dietary sugars into energy for the body’s cells. But with diabetes either the body doesn’t produce enough insulin or the available insulin can’t metabolize sugar effectively. The disease can cause or complicate many other serious health situations.

There appears to be some links between diabetes and gum disease, including that they both fuel chronic inflammation. This may explain why diabetics with uncontrolled gum disease also often have poor blood sugar levels. Conversely, diabetics often have an exaggerated inflammatory response to gum disease bacteria compared to someone without diabetes.

The good news, though, is that bringing systemic diseases like diabetes under control may have a positive effect on the treatment of gum disease. It may also mean that properly treating gum disease could also help you manage not only diabetes, but also other conditions like cardiovascular disease, osteoporosis, or rheumatoid arthritis. Taking care of your teeth and gums may not only bring greater health to your mouth, but to the rest of your body as well.

If you would like more information on treating dental diseases like gum disease, 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 “Good Oral Health Leads to Better Health Overall.”

By Renew Dental Arts, LLC
December 04, 2017
Category: Oral Health
Tags: oral hygiene   oral health  
NewYearsResolutionsforBetterOralHealth

Laying out goals for the New Year is a great way to inspire yourself to make positive changes that can improve your health. For example, many habits—both good and bad—affect the health of your teeth and gums. Here’s a list of risky habits to kick, and mouth-healthy habits to adopt:

Habits That Risk Oral Health

Smoking. As if oral cancer weren’t enough to worry about, smoking also promotes gum disease and tooth loss. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, smokers have double the risk of gum disease compared to nonsmokers. And according to the Academy of General Dentistry, smokers are about twice as likely to lose their teeth as nonsmokers. For help quitting, visit smokefree.gov.

Snacking. Nibbling all day can create the perfect conditions for tooth decay—especially if your snacks contain sugar and other carbohydrates. Sticky snacks like cookies, crackers, chips and candy bars that cling to teeth tend to remain in the mouth and attract decay-causing oral bacteria. The acid these bacteria produce can penetrate the enamel of your teeth, causing cavities.

Soft Drinks. Speaking of tooth-eroding acid, soft drinks have plenty of it. And this includes both regular and diet varieties of soda, sweetened iced tea, sports drinks and so-called energy drinks. The healthiest drink for your teeth is water!

Mouth-Healthy Habits

Brushing. You probably brush your teeth every day already, but are you doing it correctly? To get the most benefit from this healthy habit, brush twice each day for a full two minutes each time. Use a soft-bristled toothbrush with toothpaste that contains fluoride, and don’t scrub too harshly!

Flossing. Yes, it’s worth the effort! If you don’t floss, you’ll miss cleaning about 40% of your tooth surfaces. A toothbrush just can’t reach in between teeth, where decay-causing dental plaque can hide. If you find dental floss difficult to work with, try using disposable floss holders.

Regular Dental Checkups. Keep up a regular schedule of professional teeth cleanings and exams! This allows us to remove any hardened dental plaque (tartar) that has built up on your teeth, screen you for oral cancer, and treat minor dental problems before they become major ones. Plus, it’s a great opportunity to review your at-home oral hygiene.

If you have any questions about how to improve your oral health, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more by reading the Dear Doctor magazine articles “10 Tips for Daily Oral Care at Home” and “10 Tips to Help You Stop Smoking.”

By Renew Dental Arts, LLC
November 26, 2017
Category: Oral Health
Tags: oral health   diabetes  
DiabetesandOralHealth

November is National Diabetes Month—a good time to look at the connection between diabetes and oral health. While it’s important for everyone to take care of their teeth and gums, it may be especially important for people with diabetes.

People whose diabetes is not well controlled have a higher risk of infections in the mouth, especially gum disease, also called periodontal disease. Advanced periodontal disease is the number one cause of tooth loss among adults. Not only does diabetes put you at risk of oral health problems, it goes both ways. Periodontal disease can lead to higher blood sugar levels in people with diabetes and may increase the risk of complications such as heart and kidney problems.

But here’s some good news: People who take good care of their teeth and gums may have better blood sugar levels and, conversely, better blood sugar levels generally result in better gum health. Many people successfully avoid complications of diabetes by taking good care of themselves, including their teeth and gums. Here are some things you can do to help control your diabetes:

  • Eat right, exercise and watch your weight for better blood sugar control.
  • Keep up with your oral hygiene routine at home.
  • Schedule regular dental visits and cleanings.

Better oral health combined with better blood sugar control will reduce your risk of complications from diabetes. Your dental care team can help you maintain the best oral health for better diabetes control.

If you have questions about diabetes and oral health, please contact our office or schedule a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine article “Diabetes & Periodontal Disease.”

APediatricDentistCouldbeaGreatChoiceforYourChildsDentalCare

When it's time for your child to visit the dentist (we recommend around their first birthday), you may want them to see your family dentist. But you might also want to consider another option: a pediatric dentist.

The difference between the two is much the same as between a pediatrician and a family practitioner. Both can treat juvenile patients — but a family provider sees patients of all ages while a pediatrician or pediatric dentist specializes in patients who haven't reached adulthood.

Recognized as a specialty by the American Dental Association, pediatric dentists undergo about three more years of additional post-dental school training and must be licensed in the state where they practice. They're uniquely focused on dental care during the childhood stages of jaw and facial structure development.

Pediatric dentists also gear their practices toward children in an effort to reduce anxiety. The reception area and treatment rooms are usually decorated in bright, primary colors, with toys and child-sized furniture to make their young patients feel more at ease. Dentists and staff also have training and experience interacting with children and their parents to help them relax during exams and procedures.

While a pediatric practice is a good choice for any child, it can be especially beneficial for children with special needs. The “child-friendly” environment is especially soothing for children with autism, ADHD or other behavioral/developmental disorders. And pediatric dentists are especially adept in treating children at higher risk for tooth decay, especially an aggressive form called early childhood caries (ECC).

Your family dentist, of course, can presumably provide the same quality care and have an equally welcome environment for children. And unlike a pediatric dentist who will typically stop seeing patients when they reach adulthood, care from your family dentist can continue as your child gets older.

In the end it's a personal choice, depending on the needs of your family. Just be sure your child does see a dental provider regularly during their developing years: doing so will help ensure a lifetime of healthy teeth and gums.

If you would like more information on visiting a pediatric dentist for your child's dental needs, 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 “Why See a Pediatric Dentist?

By Renew Dental Arts, LLC
January 21, 2017
Category: Oral Health
Tags: oral health   blood pressure  
ThereareGoodReasonstoCheckYourBloodPressureDuringDentalVisits

There are a lot of opportunities to have your blood pressure checked: your doctor's office, of course; your local pharmacy; health fairs; and the dentist's office. The last one might surprise you, but blood pressure monitoring before a dental examination or office visit has become quite routine.

Why all this attention to blood pressure? Because chronic high blood pressure (hypertension) is a major cause for cardiovascular disease (CVD), a family of life-threatening conditions that affects 80 million people in the United States. And, you may not even be aware you have it.

That's why avenues for blood pressure screening are on the rise, and the dental office is a prime opportunity. Since you see us regularly for cleanings and checkups (you do, don't you?), there's a good chance we might help you become aware you have a problem if we perform blood pressure readings.

One study published by the Journal of the American Dental Association, for example, followed a group of dental patients with no previous risk factors of CVD, and who had not seen a doctor in the previous twelve months. Through blood pressure screening at their dental visits, 17% discovered they had high blood pressure and at risk for a cardiovascular event.

Your blood pressure can also have an effect on your oral health, especially if you're taking medication to control it. Some medications can cause reduced saliva flow, which could drastically increase your chances of developing tooth decay or periodontal (gum) disease. We would also need to exercise care during dental procedures with certain local anesthetics: some may cause both your pulse and blood pressure to rise.

Although we're primarily focused on your dental care, we also know it's only one aspect of your overall health. By simply including blood pressure checks during your checkup, we may help you identify a problem before it causes you greater health problems in the future.

If you would like more information on blood pressure and dental 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 “Monitoring Blood Pressure.”

By Renew Dental Arts, LLC
November 06, 2016
Category: Oral Health
Tags: oral health  
NewUnderstandingofBacteriaPromisesBetterApproachestoOralCare

Mention “bacteria” and people begin looking for the germicide. The truth is, though, only a few strains cause disease — the rest are benign or even play a beneficial role.

This may shock you, but your body both inside and out is home to around 100 trillion single-celled organisms, exceeding the number of your native cells by 10 to 1. You won't notice them, though: bacteria are so small they only make up 1 to 3% of your total body mass. And each of us has a unique “microbiome” of micro-organisms: they influence a variety of processes like digestion and metabolism, and some even “teach” our immune systems to distinguish between helpful and harmful bacteria.

Of the 10,000 or more species of bacteria that inhabit the body, perhaps the most studied and understood are in the mouth. We even have a database that catalogs the gene sequences of oral bacteria. And what we've learned has enlarged our understanding of dental disease and how to prevent or treat it.

This new knowledge, for example, confirms that many of our modern lifestyle habits adversely affect oral health. For example, researchers have found higher concentrations of Streptococcus mutans, the bacteria most responsible for tooth decay, in current samples of biofilm than in those from preindustrial eras. The culprit seems to be the modern diet rich with carbohydrates like sugar that bacteria eat. Cigarette smoking can also make the mouth friendlier to disease-causing bacteria.

On the bright side, our growing knowledge of oral bacteria is helping us devise better prevention and treatment strategies. One example is the use of antibiotics to reduce the populations of disease-causing oral bacteria.

The broad, traditional approach kills not only malevolent bacteria, but beneficial strains as well. The approach may also be helping bad bacteria become resistant to common antibiotics. A newer approach targets specific bacteria with custom-designed antibiotics that won't kill other bacteria. There's also increased focus on ways to re-balance a person's normal microbiome if it's become skewed.

As we come to understand bacteria better — both good and bad species — these and other dental care efforts will benefit. With our increasing knowledge of these microorganisms that surround us the future looks bright for better oral health.

If you would like more information on the role of bacteria in 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 “New Research Shows Bacteria Essential to Health.”