Although dental care has made incredible advances over the last century, the underlying approach to treating tooth decay has changed little. Today’s dentists treat a decayed tooth in much the same way as their counterparts from the early 20th Century: remove all decayed structure, prepare the tooth and fill the cavity.
Dentists still use that approach not only because of its effectiveness, but also because no other alternative has emerged to match it. But that may change in the not-too-distant future according to recent research.
A research team at Kings College, London has found that a drug called Tideglusib, used for treating Alzheimer’s disease, appears to also stimulate teeth to regrow some of its structure. The drug seemed to cause stem cells to produce dentin, one of the tooth’s main structural layers.
During experimentation, the researchers drilled holes in mouse teeth. They then placed within the holes tiny sponges soaked with Tideglusib. They found that within a matter of weeks the holes had filled with dentin produced by the teeth themselves.
Dentin regeneration isn’t a new phenomenon, but other occurrences of regrowth have only produced it in tiny amounts. The Kings College research, though, gives rise to the hope that stem cell stimulation could produce dentin on a much larger scale. If that proves out, our teeth may be able to create restorations by “filling themselves” that are much more durable and with possibly fewer complications.
As with any medical breakthrough, the practical application for this new discovery may be several years away. But because the medication responsible for dentin regeneration in these experiments with mouse teeth is already available and in use, the process toward an application with dental patients could be relatively short.
If so, a new biological approach to treating tooth decay may one day replace the time-tested filling method we currently use. One day, you won’t need a filling from a dentist—your teeth may do it for you.
It's no secret that many of Hollywood's brightest stars didn't start out with perfectly aligned, pearly-white teeth. And these days, plenty of celebs are willing to share their stories, showing how dentists help those megawatt smiles shine. In a recent interview with W magazine, Emma Stone, the stunning 28-year-old star of critically-acclaimed films like La La Land and Birdman, explained how orthodontic appliances helped her overcome problems caused by a harmful habit: persistent thumb sucking in childhood.
“I sucked my thumb until I was 11 years old,” she admitted, mischievously adding “It's still so soothing to do it.” Although it may have been comforting, the habit spelled trouble for her bite. “The roof of my mouth is so high-pitched that I had this huge overbite,” she said. “I got this gate when I was in second grade… I had braces, and then they put a gate.”
While her technical terminology isn't quite accurate, Stone is referring to a type of appliance worn in the mouth which dentists call a “tongue crib” or “thumb/finger appliance.” The purpose of these devices is to stop children from engaging in “parafunctional habits” — that is, behaviors like thumb sucking or tongue thrusting, which are unrelated to the normal function of the mouth and can cause serious bite problems. (Other parafunctional habits include nail biting, pencil chewing and teeth grinding.)
When kids develop the habit of regularly pushing the tongue against the front teeth (tongue thrusting) or sucking on an object placed inside the mouth (thumb sucking), the behavior can cause the front teeth to be pushed out of alignment. When the top teeth move forward, the condition is commonly referred to as an overbite. In some cases a more serious situation called an “open bite” may develop, which can be difficult to correct. Here, the top and bottom front teeth do not meet or overlap when the mouth is closed; instead, a vertical gap is left in between.
Orthodontic appliances are often recommended to stop harmful oral habits from causing further misalignment. Most appliances are designed with a block (or gate) that prevents the tongue or finger from pushing on the teeth; this is what the actress mentioned. Normally, when the appliance is worn for a period of months it can be expected to modify the child's behavior. Once the habit has been broken, other appliances like traditional braces or clear aligners can be used to bring the teeth into better alignment.
But in Stone's case, things didn't go so smoothly. “I'd take the gate down and suck my thumb underneath the mouth appliance,” she admitted, “because I was totally ignoring the rule to not suck your thumb while you're trying to straighten out your teeth.” That rule-breaking ended up costing the aspiring star lots of time: she spent a total of 7 years wearing braces.
Fortunately, things worked out for the best for Emma Stone: She now has a brilliant smile and a stellar career — plus a shiny new Golden Globe award! Does your child have a thumb sucking problem or another harmful oral habit? For more information about how to correct it, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can learn more in the Dear Doctor magazine article “How Thumb Sucking Affects the Bite.”
The sooner you get treated for tooth decay, the less likely you'll lose your tooth. That could mean a simple filling—or you might need a root canal treatment if decay has reached the inner pulp.
There's also another procedure for advanced decay called pulp capping. It's a bit more involved than filling a cavity but less so than a root canal. We can use it if decay has exposed or nearly exposed the pulp, but not yet infected it—otherwise, you may still need a root canal treatment to remove the diseased pulp tissue.
There are two types of pulp capping methods, direct and indirect. We use direct pulp capping if the pulp has been exposed by decay. After isolating the tooth to protect other teeth from contamination, we remove all of the decayed dentin up to the pulp. This may cause some bleeding, which we'll stop, and then clean and dry the tooth area.
We'll then apply a protective biocompatible material directly over the pulp to promote healing and protect it from further infection. We then restore the tooth's appearance and function with a life-like filling.
We use the indirect method, a two-part process separated by six to eight months, when the pulp tissue is close to the surface but not yet exposed. We initially remove the majority of decayed tooth structure, but leave some of it in place next to the pulp chamber. Although this remaining dentin is softened and decayed, we'll treat it with antibacterial chemicals, then cover it with a biocompatible material and a temporary filling.
Over the next several months the treated structure has a chance to re-mineralize as it heals. We then remove the temporary filling and assess the level of healing progress. If the regenerated dentin appears healthy, we can then remove any remaining decay and restore the teeth as we would after a direct pulp capping.
At the very least, pulp capping could buy your affected tooth time before a root canal will finally be needed. Under the right circumstances, it's an effective way to save an otherwise lost tooth.
If you would like more information on tooth decay treatments, 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 “Pulp Capping: A Procedure that may Save a Decayed Tooth.”
While braces are often the stars for straightening smiles, they're not the only cast members in an orthodontic production. Orthodontists occasionally turn to other appliances if the bite problem is challenging. Whatever the tool, though, they usually have something in common—they use the principle of anchorage.
To understand anchorage, let's first consider the classic kid's game Tug of War. With teams on either end of a rope, the object is to pull the opposing team across the center line before they pull you. To maximize your pulling force, the player at the back of your rope, usually your stoutest member, holds steady or "anchors" the rest of the team.
Like a Tug of War team, braces exert force against the teeth. This stimulates the supporting periodontal ligament to remodel itself and allow the teeth to move. The braces use the teeth they are attached to as anchors, which in a lot of cases are the back teeth. By attaching a thin wire to the brackets or braces on the teeth, the orthodontist includes all the teeth on the arch, from one end to the other. Anchored in place, the wire can maintain a constant pressure against the teeth to move them.
But not all bite situations are this straightforward. Sometimes an orthodontist needs to influence jaw growth in addition to teeth movement. For this purpose, they often use orthodontic headgear, which runs around the back of the head or neck and attaches to orthodontic brackets on the teeth. It still involves an anchor but in this case it's the patient's own skull.
In some situations, an orthodontist may feel he or she needs more anchorage as the teeth alone may not be enough. For this, they might establish a separate or additional anchor point using a temporary anchorage device (TAD). A TAD resembles a tiny screw that's inserted into the jawbone near the tooth intended for movement. The orthodontist can then attach the TAD to braces hardware using some form of elastics. After treatment, they remove the TAD.
These are just a couple examples of specialized tools an orthodontist can use for bite correction. Thanks to them and similar devices, even the most complex bite problem can be overcome to create a healthier and more attractive smile.
If you would like more information on correcting a poor bite, 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 “Orthodontic Headgear & Other Anchorage Appliances.”
Regular dental visits are an important part of teeth and gum health at any age, including young children. But the clinical nature of a dental office can be intimidating to children and create in them an anxiety that could carry over into adulthood and disrupt future care.
You can, though, take steps to "de-stress" your child's dental visits. Here are 3 ways to reduce your child's dental anxiety.
Start visits early. Most dentists and pediatricians recommend your child's first visit around age one. By then, many of their primary teeth have already erupted and in need of monitoring and decay prevention measures. Beginning visits early rather than later in childhood also seems to dampen the development of dental visit anxiety.
Take advantage of sedation therapy. Even with the best calming efforts, some children still experience nervousness during dental visits. Your dentist may be able to help by administering a mild sedative before and during a visit to help your child relax. These medications aren't the same as anesthesia, which numbs the body from pain—they simply take the edge off your child's anxiety while leaving them awake and alert. Coupled with positive reinforcement, sedation could help your child have a more pleasant dental visit experience.
Set the example. Children naturally follow the behavior and attitudes of their parents or caregivers. If they see you taking your own hygiene practices seriously, they're more likely to do the same. Similarly, if they notice you're uncomfortable during a dental visit, they'll interpret that as sufficient reason to feel the same way. So, treat going to the dentist as an "adventure," with a reward at the end. And stay calm—if you're calm and unafraid, they can be too.
If you would like more information on effective dental care for kids, 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 “Taking the Stress out of Dentistry for Kids.”
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