Choosing The Best Dental Floss

Choosing the Best Dental Floss For You

Although the array of flosses and flossing products can seem daunting, choosing dental floss does not have to be difficult.

You may be new to flossing or you may want to recommit to making daily flossing a part of your regular oral care routine. But no matter what reason you have for choosing dental floss, the most important point to remember is that the best floss for you is the floss that you will use every single day.

Recent Study About Flossing Products

Results from a recent study published in the Journal of Periodontology showed that there was no difference in the plaque-removing ability of four different types of flossing products. In this study, 25 people were assigned to use four different products: an electric flosser, an unwaxed floss, a woven floss, and a shred-resistant floss. All four floss products showed significantly greater plaque removal compared with tooth brushing alone, and the electric flosser showed the highest average plaque reduction after one use.

Electric And Standard Dental Floss Compared

Are you curious about electric flossers but worried about whether they are safe?

A study published in the Journal of Clinical Dentistry compared the safety and plaque-removing ability of an electric flosser and a standard dental floss. In this study, 78 people were assigned to use either a standard dental floss or an electric flosser. After 30 days of use, both groups had significantly less plaque on their teeth than before they began their daily flossing routines, and the electric flosser and the standard floss were equally effective at removing plaque. In addition, both flossing methods were found to be equally safe. No signs of trauma to the hard or soft tissues in the mouth were associated with using either product.

Benefits Of Electric Flossers

Since research shows that the electric flossers are as safe and effective as the standard floss, should you choose an electric flosser instead of one of the many types of standard floss? Many people can benefit from electric flossers, especially older adults who may have trouble manipulating floss with their fingers. Older children and teens may be more likely to use electric flossers than standard floss because they find them fun, especially if they like using electric toothbrushes.

Choosing A Flossing Product That Is Right For You

But you need not choose only one type of floss or flossing product. Different members of your family may need or prefer certain types of flossing products, and these needs and preferences will change over time. Young children may start with specialized child-sized non-electric flossers, such as Oral-B’s Stages flosser series, and then graduate to an electric flosser or a spongy floss that fits around braces or other dental hardware.

Tips On Choosing The Best Flossing Product

If you’re uncertain about which type of floss is best for you or a member of your family, as your dentist or dental hygienist for advice. Here are some points that might be helpful:
•Large gaps between your teeth? Try dental tape or Super Floss.
•Not much space between your teeth? You may find that a waxed floss is easier to slide into those tight spaces.
•Want less mess? Look for disposable flossers or floss in pre-measured strands.
•Braces or bridges? A spongy floss is a good option, but any floss can be used if you wear dental appliances, especially if you have a floss threader.

Bottom Line

Many people keep standard floss on hand for traveling, and use an electric flosser at home. If your spouse prefers, say, mint-flavored unwaxed floss while you prefer a coated dental tape, you can’t go wrong by keeping some basic floss on hand that everyone can use, such as Oral-B’s Essential Floss. 
Just remember that when it comes to dental floss , flossing every day is the most important choice you and your family can make.

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Women More Proactive in Maintaining Oral Health

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), women are better than men about seeing their physician for routine checkups and are more likely to schedule a doctor visit when feeling sick or injured. Now new research reveals that women are more proactive than men in maintaining their oral health (Journal of Periodontology, April 2011, Vol. 82:4, pp. 558-565).

The study, conducted at Okayama University Graduate School of Medicine, Dentistry and Pharmaceutical Sciences, included more than 800 participants between the ages of 18 and 19. Participants were asked to complete a written questionnaire concerning lifestyle, dental knowledge, dental attitude, and oral health behaviors. In addition, the participants underwent an oral examination to assess for indicators of periodontal disease.

According to the study findings, women are almost twice as likely to have received a regular dental checkup in the past year. In addition, women were more likely to schedule the recommended treatment following the dental checkup. Women in the study also had better indicators of periodontal health, including lower incidence of dental plaque, calculus, and bleeding on probing; all of which can be used as markers of periodontal disease.

Women also have a better understanding of what oral health entails and a more positive attitude toward dental visits, according to the researchers.

Other findings from the study:

Women are 26% more likely than men to floss on a daily basis.
74% of women would be embarrassed by a missing tooth, a possible consequence of periodontal disease, compared with 57% of men.
Women are almost twice as likely to notice missing teeth on another person than men.
44% of women are aware that periodontists can help contribute to overall good health, compared with 33% of men.

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Top 10 Myths About Root Canals

People seem to cringe when they hear the words root canal. I know that I used to. But reading the truth about these 10 root canal myths can help you get a better sense of what having a root canal really is all about.

1. Root Canals Hurt
According to the American Association of Endodontists, the perception of root canals being painful began decades ago when root canal treatments were painful. Today, with modern technology and better anesthetics, root canal treatments are no more painful than having a filling. Knowing what to expect while having a root canal can help ease a lot of anxiety.

2. Root Canals Require a lot of Visits to the Dentist
With today’s cutting edge technology, most root canals can be performed in one or two office visits.

3. Crowns Cause Teeth to Need Root Canals
Many people believe that having a crown on a tooth means that the tooth will eventually need a root canal. Crowns do not cause the need for root canal therapy. If a crowned tooth does require a root canal, it could be that the tooth has abscessed or that decay has gotten underneath the crown and reached the pulp of the tooth.

4. Root Canals Cause Illness
There is no evidence to support that root canals cause illness. However, there is evidence to support the fact that people who have had root canals are no more at risk for developing illness than people who have never had root canals.

5. Root Canals Involve Removing the Roots of the Tooth
When the dentist or endodontist performs a root canal treatment, he or she remove the pulp from inside of the tooth. The roots of the tooth are not removed.

6. Pregnant Women Can’t Have Root Canals
Pregnant women can and do have root canals. Having a root canal does require a small x-ray, but the radiation exposure is very minimal and the x-ray is aimed at the mouth, not the abdomen area. If you are pregnant and your dentist needs to give you an x-ray, he will use a lead apron to cover your belly. The anesthetics that dentists use are also safe for pregnant women.Be sure to let your dentist know beforehand if you are pregnant.

7. Even With A Root Canal, The Tooth Will Come Out Eventually
If you have your tooth properly restored, maintain good oral hygiene and visit your dentist for regular checkups, your natural tooth could last for the rest of your life.

8. If the Tooth Doesn’t Hurt, There is no Need for a Root Canal
While a throbbing toothache usually results in the need for root canal treatment, many times a tooth can require root canal treatment when there is no pain present. Dentists and endodontists are specially trained to test a tooth to see if the pulp has been infected or damaged. If this is the case, a root canal would be necessary to save the tooth.

9. Pulling the Tooth is Better than Getting a Root Canal
Keeping your natural teeth for as long as possible is very important for proper eating and chewing functions. There are several options available for missing teeth, such as dentures, partial dentures, dental implants and fixed dental bridges, however, these alternatives can be much more expensive than saving your tooth with a root canal treatment.

10. After Having a Root Canal, My Tooth is Completely Restored
After having a root canal, it is extremely important to make a follow-up appointment with your dentist to have the tooth permanently restored. After the pulp of the tooth has been removed, the tooth can become very dry and brittle. Having a permanent restoration will help protect your tooth from fracturing.

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Stocking Stuffers to Boost Dental Health

This holiday season, it’s important to remember that all of the added treats require special attention to be placed on dental health. People who find themselves running low on things to put in their loved one’s stocking should consider sticking some teeth-friendly items in there. While that may seem like a crazy idea, here are a few suggestions for things that are both fun and promote good oral care.

First, along with the chocolate coins and other candies that find there way into stockings, add in some gum containing the natural sweetener, Xylitol. Studies have shown that chewing sugar-free gum stimulates saliva production, which can help rid the mouth of leftover food particles.

Next, for kids who hate brushing their teeth, buy an assortment of fun-flavored toothpastes. Let them try out different ones so they can choose which one they like best, which will let them feel as though they are in control of the situation and may encourage them to brush more often.

Finally, toothbrushes come in a variety of styles, shapes and sizes. People should change their toothbrush around every three months or so, but not everyone gets around to it, which is why a few extra brushes can make a helpful stocking-stuffer.

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The Wisdom on Wisdom Teeth

“You know the old colloquialism, let sleeping dogs lie? Well these dogs are not sleeping,” warns Richard Haug, executive associate dean at the University of Kentucky College of Dentistry, as he refers to wisdom teeth. An ongoing study links even pain-free wisdom teeth to early gum disease that worsens over time, sometimes causing havoc far beyond the mouth. Indeed, pregnant women with gum disease around their wisdom teeth appear to be much more likely to give birth prematurely than unaffected pregnant women. The latest data suggest that as many as 80 percent of people will develop problems with their wisdom teeth.

But controversy lingers about when to take action. Most experts no longer believe that crowding is a concern, but the American Association of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons typically recommends pre-emptive pulling in young adulthood, before symptoms arise, when roots haven’t yet fully formed and surgical risks are lowest. “If you have to have them out when you’re 45, you will not enjoy that,” promises Tony Pogrel, chair of the department of oral and maxillofacial surgery at the University of California-San Francisco.

Andrew Ziolkowski, 59, can attest to that. A dental checkup a couple of years ago revealed that cysts had formed around his impacted wisdom teeth and damaged his jawbone—a surprise to Ziolkowski, who hadn’t experienced any pain. The necessary surgery required that his jaw be wired shut for weeks afterward and resulted in some nerve damage, a rare complication. “To this day I have no sensation in my lower lip and chin,” says the architect from Germantown, Md.

Nonsurgeons are less gung-ho about preventive pulling. “If they’re not causing pain or infection, and they’re coming in straight, I usually take a wait-and-see approach,” says Cynthia Sherwood, a general dentist and national spokesperson for the Academy of General Dentistry. Those who wait are advised to have their wisdom teeth checked yearly, since they are tough to keep clean and may get infected or shift position. “You’re committed to that treatment plan until you die,” says Thomas Dodson, associate professor of oral and maxillofacial surgery at Massachusetts General Hospital.

Because wisdom teeth don’t form until around age 5, Anthony Silvestri, director of dental anatomy and occlusion at Tufts University’s dental school, foresees a day when lasers will be used to prevent that from happening. He and colleagues have had success in animals. “It doesn’t make sense,” he says, “that everyone should be having surgery for a useless tooth.”

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5 Top Foods to Prevent Bad Breath

Bad breath results from two key issues: oral hygiene and gastrointestinal health. Basically this means that breath odors originate not just inside the mouth but also from your digestive tract. The culprit in both cases is largely bacteria. Doctors will tell you that if you have bad breath, you should first make sure you are eating right (getting a balanced diet of protein, carbs, lots of fruits and veggies and plenty of fluids to keep the GI tract healthy) and brushing and flossing after every meal. But that still doesn’t mean you might not be offending your friends and co-workers after lunch at the new Italian place. Here are some things you can ingest (or chew) that can help.

1. Chew on this. Move over parsley, there are some new halitosis-fighting herbs in town. “Coriander, spearmint, tarragon, eucalyptus, rosemary and cardamom are all good for fighting bad breath,” says Dr. Christine Gerbstadt, who has lectured on oral health. You can chew on fresh herbs or make tonics by steeping them in hot water (as a tea). These herbs make an excellent digestive as well-doubling the benefits of ending a meal this way.

2. Get some active culture. No, not Cirque du Soleil, but yogurt. A recent study found that a serving of yogurt each day reduces the level of odor-causing hydrogen sulfide in the mouth. Apparently it also cuts back on bacteria in the mouth-plaque and gum disease were reduced in the study’s yogurt eaters as well. Plus, the American Dietetic Association (ADA) recommends getting enough vitamin D from yogurt, cheese and milk if you’re worried about halitosis because this vitamin creates an inhospitable environment for bacteria growth. Be sure to get the kind of yogurt with active cultures-not overly processed or sugar-added varieties.

3. Crunchy types. Apples, carrots, celery-basically any fiber-rich fruit or vegetable is your friend when it comes to fighting halitosis. “Inside your mouth, plaque build-up causes odors,” explains Cynthia Sass, ADA spokeswoman and registered dietician. “Eating foods that increase saliva production keep the mouth moist-and rinsed out. Also, many carbs and proteins can get stuck in your teeth-even healthy foods like whole grain cereal or chicken breast.” So follow a meal with a Granny Smith (feel the saliva kick in at the mention of it?) to cleanse the mouth.

4. Masking techniques. Sugarless gum shouldn’t replace brushing your teeth after a meal, but in a pinch it can freshen breath (masking odors) and is another way to increase saliva production to rinse away plaque and bacteria. Mints can mask as well, but only briefly-and go for sugarless. Sugar creates plaque, and no one wants a mint that makes breath worse.

5. High C’s. Eating berries, citrus fruits, melons and other vitamin C-rich foods create an inhospitable environment for bacteria growth. A diet rich in vitamin C is also is important for preventing gum disease and gingivitis-both major causes of halitosis. Get your C in foods, not supplements, which can cause gastrointestinal upset in some, according to Sass, and exacerbate bad breath.

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When Stress Takes a Toll on Your Teeth

WITH economic pressures affecting millions of Americans, dentists may have noticed a drop in patients opting for a brighter smile, but they are seeing another phenomenon: a rise in the number of teeth grinders.

“I’m seeing a lot more people that are anxious, stressed out and very concerned about their financial futures and they’re taking it out on their teeth,” said Dr. Steven Butensky, a dentist with a specialty in prosthodontics (aesthetic, implant and reconstructive dentistry) in Manhattan.

One of his patients lost hundreds of thousands of dollars invested with Bernard L. Madoff. Another reported that he had lost a job with a seven-figure salary. A third, a single mother with a floral design business on Long Island, said she was working twice as hard for half as much.

“All three are grinders, directly affected by what’s going on out there,” Dr. Butensky said, gesturing outside his Midtown office window.

Dr. Robert Rawdin, another Manhattan dentist with a specialty in prosthodontics, said he had seen 20 to 25 percent more patients with teeth grinding symptoms in the last year. And in San Diego, Dr. Gerald McCracken said that over the last 18 months his number of cases had more than doubled. They, along with other dentists interviewed for this article, chalk it up to the economy.

“We’re finding in a lot of double-income families, we have the people who have lost jobs and are worried, and then we have the spouse, who still has the job, with the added pressure and uncertainty,” Dr. McCracken said. “This can cause some real grinding at night.”

With or without economic hardship, 10 to 15 percent of adult Americans moderately to severely grind their teeth, according to Dr. Matthew Messina, a dentist in Cleveland and a consumer adviser for the American Dental Association.

Because it is a subconscious muscle activity, most grinders grind without realizing it, until a symptom such as a fragmented tooth or facial soreness occurs.

While many experts believe that genetics may play a role in bruxism (or teeth grinding), stress has long been known to set off clenching and grinding in some people, Dr. Messina said. “Recession breeds stress and our body responds to stressful events so in times like these, the incidence of bruxism goes up,” he said, adding that over the last year or so he had heard from dentists around the country who had seen an uptick in patients with bruxism while also complaining about financial stress. In his own practice, he said he had treated twice as many cases in the last year than in the year before.

“Stress, whether it’s real or perceived, causes flight-or-fight hormones to release in the body,” he said. “Those released stress hormones mobilize energy, causing isometric activity, which is muscle movement, because that built-up energy has to be released in some way.”

The most expensive option for rebuilding teeth damaged by grinding is with veneers, but this year, dentists say that many of their bruxism patients are requesting one of the least costly treatments: a night guard, also known as an occlusal splint. Manufacturers said sales of these devices had gone up. “Our night guard sales have increased 15 percent over the prior year,” said Greg Pelissier, a manager at Glidewell Laboratories, a maker of custom restorative, reconstructive and cosmetic dental products based in Newport Beach, Calif.
vNew drugstore products have also come to market, including a disposable night guard, Grind-No-More (about $30 for 14 guards). Its makers hope it will appeal to on-again-off-again grinders.

Stan Goff, executive editor of Dental Products Report, a monthly publication, wrote in an e-mail message that all this teeth grinding “may be playing a role in the introduction of several new products designed to not only prevent bruxism, but to help fight against tooth sensitivity” and other conditions that are aggravated by grinding.

While experts believe bruxism is not a dental disorder per se, but rather originates in the central nervous system, the condition can greatly affect the teeth and the entire craniofacial structure.

“Normally, we exert about 20 to 30 pounds per square inch on our back molars when we chew,” Dr. Rawdin said. “But teeth grinders, especially at night without restraint, can exert up to as much as 200 pounds per square inch on their teeth.”

Some nocturnal grinders will grind up to 40 minutes of every hour of sleep. The relentless wear and tear can quickly erode enamel (10 times faster than that of nongrinders), fracture teeth, affect bite and damage the temporomandibular joint at the hinge of the jaw, and the masseter muscle, which controls the jaws. Jaw and face pain, as well as earaches and headaches, may also occur.

“I kind of thought I was going crazy,” said Adrienne Lee Kornstein, 48, a patient of Dr. Butensky, whose floral design business in Jericho, N.Y., has suffered because of the economy. “A tooth broke for what seemed like no reason, and by the time I got to Dr. Butensky, I’d been to my physician, other dentists, even a dermatologist to try to get relief from migraines and facial pain I was taking painkillers for. I had no idea I was grinding or that grinding your teeth could even lead to all that.”

The most common treatment for the disorder is to wear a night guard, which may not only alleviate grinding but, in some cases, train someone to stop grinding altogether.

Fitted in the dentist’s office, a custom guard is usually a clear, hard plastic device that runs over the top or lower teeth from front to back and prevents the top and bottom molars from making contact. Although not cheap (the price can range from $350 to $1,000), most dentists prefer a custom guard to over-the-counter guards, which are usually made of softer material and can encourage chewing and exacerbate masseter muscle activity.

There are also smaller prefabricated splints that a dentist can customize. These are generally cheaper than the fitted full arch guards and require fewer adjustments. But some dentists argue they are not as effective as the full arch guards.

Many teeth grinders interviewed said they would not go to bed without their night guards.

“Sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night and having my guard in makes me more aware if I’m tensing my body or gripping my jaw, and I can just take a moment to relax,” said Alisa Fastenberg, 50, a graphic designer in Manhattan.

Other treatments for teeth grinding include acupuncture, medical massage, hypnosis and Botox injections into the masseter muscle to relax the muscle enough to stop it from going into spasms without changing one’s chewing function.

“Grinding is like body building,” said Dr. Alexander Rivkin, a head and neck surgeon at Westside Aesthetics in Los Angeles, who has also seen an increase in grinding-related cases this past year. “The constant workout of the masseter muscle, the largest in the head, builds up that muscle and that can cause a lot of pain, not to mention make the face appear more square.”

He added, “For, I’d say, 85 percent of the people who come to me complaining about headaches, jaw soreness and pain, Botox injections into the masseter muscle on both sides of the face is the answer.”

But even something as simple as taking time before bed to de-stress has been known to help.

“Good sleep hygiene goes a long way to keeping the mind relaxed and the jaws from starting to smack together,” said Dr. McCracken, who has studied the relation of sleep to teeth grinding. “We know that the stress center of the brain is directly next to the part of the brain that controls teeth grinding. We’re not sure how it relates to the disorder, but it’s intriguing. Lately, I even tell my patients, before they go to bed, not to watch the news.”

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Found: The Gene That Could Grow New Teeth

A breakthrough by scientists could see dentures bite the dust.

Researchers have pinpointed the gene that governs the production of tooth enamel, raising the tantalising possibility of people one day growing extra teeth when needed.

At the very least, it could cut the need for painful fillings.

Experiments in mice have previously shown that the gene, a ‘transcription factor’ called Ctip2, is involved in the immune system and in the development of skin and nerves.

The latest research, from Oregon State University in the U.S., adds enamel production to the list.

The researchers made the link by studying mice genetically engineered to lack the gene.

The animals were born with rudimentary teeth which were ready to erupt but lacked a proper covering of enamel, the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences reports.

Researcher Dr Chrissa Kioussi said: ‘It’s not unusual for a gene to have multiple functions, but before this we didn’t know what regulated the production of tooth enamel.

‘This is the first transcription factor ever found to control the formation and maturation of ameloblasts, which are the cells that secrete enamel.’

The finding could be applied to human health and, if used in conjunction with fledgling stem cell technology, could one day allow people to grow replacement teeth when needed.

Alternatively, the knowledge could be used to strengthen existing enamel and repair damaged enamel, cutting decay and the need for fillings.

Dr Kioussi said: ‘Enamel is one of the hardest coatings found in nature.

‘A lot of work would still be needed to bring this to human applications, but it should work.

‘It could be really cool, a whole new approach to dental health.’

Researchers hope that within ten years we will be able to grow new teeth from stem cells – the so-called master cells which have the potential to be used to grow any part of the body.

Scientists have successfully harvested stem cells from dental pulp – the nerves and tissue inside the teeth – and grown teeth in the lab which have been transplanted into mice.

Other innovations on the horizon include ‘drills’ that cut and polish teeth using nothing more than a blast of air and a mouthwash that could do away with the need for fillings.

Around 11million Britons wear dentures – more than one million of them in their 30s or younger.

The NHS pays for false teeth for around 12,000 six to 24-year-olds a year.

However, the making of dentures is a dying art.

The British Society for the Study of Prosthetic Dentistry has warned that time spent teaching dental students on the ins and outs of false teeth is now being devoted to lessons on tooth whitening, orthodontics and other techniques behind the much sought-after ‘Hollywood smile’.

Eighty-five per cent of people claim to have good oral hygiene, but just two-thirds brush their teeth twice a day and nearly a third of adults have 12 or more fillings.

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Top 10 Myths About Root Canals

People seem to cringe when they hear the words root canal. I know that I used to. But reading the truth about these 10 root canal myths can help you get a better sense of what having a root canal really is all about.

1. Root Canals Hurt
According to the American Association of Endodontists, the perception of root canals being painful began decades ago when root canal treatments were painful. Today, with modern technology and better anesthetics, root canal treatments are no more painful than having a filling. Knowing what to expect while having a root canal can help ease a lot of anxiety.

2. Root Canals Require a lot of Visits to the Dentist
With today’s cutting edge technology, most root canals can be performed in one or two office visits.

3. Crowns Cause Teeth to Need Root Canals
Many people believe that having a crown on a tooth means that the tooth will eventually need a root canal. Crowns do not cause the need for root canal therapy. If a crowned tooth does require a root canal, it could be that the tooth has abscessed or that decay has gotten underneath the crown and reached the pulp of the tooth.

4. Root Canals Cause Illness
There is no evidence to support that root canals cause illness. However, there is evidence to support the fact that people who have had root canals are no more at risk for developing illness than people who have never had root canals.

5. Root Canals Involve Removing the Roots of the Tooth
When the dentist or endodontist performs a root canal treatment, he or she remove the pulp from inside of the tooth. The roots of the tooth are not removed.

6. Pregnant Women Can’t Have Root Canals
Pregnant women can and do have root canals. Having a root canal does require a small x-ray, but the radiation exposure is very minimal and the x-ray is aimed at the mouth, not the abdomen area. If you are pregnant and your dentist needs to give you an x-ray, he will use a lead apron to cover your belly. The anesthetics that dentists use are also safe for pregnant women.Be sure to let your dentist know beforehand if you are pregnant.

7. Even With A Root Canal, The Tooth Will Come Out Eventually
If you have your tooth properly restored, maintain good oral hygiene and visit your dentist for regular checkups, your natural tooth could last for the rest of your life.

8. If the Tooth Doesn’t Hurt, There is no Need for a Root Canal
While a throbbing toothache usually results in the need for root canal treatment, many times a tooth can require root canal treatment when there is no pain present. Dentists and endodontists are specially trained to test a tooth to see if the pulp has been infected or damaged. If this is the case, a root canal would be necessary to save the tooth.

9. Pulling the Tooth is Better than Getting a Root Canal
Keeping your natural teeth for as long as possible is very important for proper eating and chewing functions. There are several options available for missing teeth, such as dentures, partial dentures, dental implants and fixed dental bridges, however, these alternatives can be much more expensive than saving your tooth with a root canal treatment.

10. After Having a Root Canal, My Tooth is Completely Restored
After having a root canal, it is extremely important to make a follow-up appointment with your dentist to have the tooth permanently restored. After the pulp of the tooth has been removed, the tooth can become very dry and brittle. Having a permanent restoration will help protect your tooth from fracturing.

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Vaccine for Tooth Decay

For most of the twentieth century, the only way dentists could treat cavities was to “drill and fill.” But what if cavities never formed to begin with, thanks to a vaccine painlessly squirted into the nostrils in the first few years of a child’s life?

Harvard Medical School faculty members working at the Forsyth Institute in Boston, an independent research and educational organization focused on oral and craniofacial science, have discovered the basis for a vaccine that could someday end tooth decay in children. Professor of oral biology Martin Taubman, who heads Forsyth’s immunology department, and associate clinical professor of oral biology and pathophysiology Daniel Smith, a senior member of the Forsyth immunology department, say their vaccine could prevent decay-causing bacteria from gaining a foothold in the mouth.

Although it has been common knowledge among dental scientists since the 1950s, most people are still startled to learn that tooth decay is merely a symptom of a chronic infectious disease called dental caries (Latin for “rot”). The germs that cause caries, a group of bacteria called the mutans streptococci, amass in significant numbers in the presence of sugar-sucrose, specifically. As mutans break down sugar, they manufacture lactic acid, which strips away tooth enamel and eventually produces cavities.

Rotting teeth are now nearly epidemic around the world, caused in part by the spread of sugary Western foods, including infant formula. In China, 75 percent of five-year-olds have tooth decay. And in the United States, dental caries affects permanent teeth in almost half of all children between the ages of five and 17, most of them poor. Lacking the money to drill and fill, poor children are more likely to see their cavities progress to excruciating tooth infections and to have decaying teeth extracted rather than undergo costly treatments like root canals or crowns.

The Forsyth team aims to pull the rug out from under the cavity-causing mutans germs by making it impossible for them to stick to teeth to begin with. Like other active vaccines, theirs works by introducing a foreign substance, called an antigen, into the body. Antigens trigger the immune system to produce antibodies, which attack the antigens and stay in the system indefinitely, providing long-term immunity.

The new caries vaccine uses an antigen called glucosyltransferase, or GTF-an enzyme that allows decay-causing bacteria to accumulate on teeth and, Taubman says, arouses a greater immune response than other previously tested antigens. By stimulating immunity to the enzyme, the vaccine makes it impossible for the decay-producing microorganisms to cling to the teeth.

Unlike many vaccines that work through the bloodstream, this one triggers immunity in saliva and mucous tissues-hence it could be squirted or swabbed into the nostrils. The researchers believe the best way to provide long-term protection against caries is to vaccinate children at about the age of one, after baby teeth have begun to emerge, but before the mutans bacteria have started to amass in destructive numbers. At this age, Taubman explains, children’s immune systems are developed enough to produce the needed antibodies. (Once the bacteria have begun to build up, usually when a child is between 18 and 36 months of age, antibodies still form, but are powerless to interfere with mutans streptococci that have already established themselves on teeth; in high-sucrose conditions, these bacteria can still cause decay.) Since antibodies remain in the saliva-and can be “boosted”-they could conceivably provide lifelong immunity, although this has yet to be proven.

That is the next step: human clinical trials. Taubman and Smith have successfully tested the new vaccine on rats (which, like humans, love to gobble sweets) and also showed positive effects and safety with an orally administered form of the vaccine tested 10 years ago in a Phase I trial involving young men. The researchers are now seeking to partner with institutions that could provide the initial financial support (perhaps $400,000 to $500,000, Taubman estimates) and/or research facilities to help make enough vaccine to test in wider controlled studies.

Alternatively, we could simply give up our love affair with sugar.

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