Visiting the dentist for regular cleanings and needed dental work can do wonders for keeping your teeth and gums in tip-top shape. But if you’ve seen or heard about infections occurring in healthcare facilities, you might be a little concerned that your trip to the dentist might expose you to one. Don’t be! You and your family will be out of harm’s way because your dental team has made protection from viruses, bacteria and other infectious agents a top priority. To highlight this effort, the American Academy of Oral Medicine commemorates each September as “National Dental Infection Control Awareness Month.”
As a healthcare provider, dentists have a legal, moral and ethical obligation to protect patients (and staff members too) from infection through what are known as “standard precautions.” These include barrier protection, disinfection and sterilization practices, and safe disposal of contaminated items.
But dentists and their professional organizations don’t stop with the minimum requirements—they’re committed to a higher standard when it comes to infection control. The bedrock for this commitment is adherence to an infection control checklist developed by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC), updated regularly. This in-depth checklist recommends several best practices and protocols, including:
- Creating a written infection control plan that outlines all practices and procedures to be followed by the provider and staff;
- Barrier protection, including the wearing of disposable gloves, face shields or gowns by providers as appropriate;
- Proper disposal methods for used items;
- Proper hand washing and other hygiene practices before and after treatment procedures;
- Proper disinfection and sterilization of instruments and equipment;
Most licensing bodies also require that dentists and their staff undergo continuing education in infection control, usually every two years.
Because you as a patient have a right to know the details about your medical and dental care, you have public access to infection control guidelines and requirements. You can also ask your dental provider about what steps they take to protect you and your family from infectious disease. They’ll be glad to answer any questions you have to put your mind at ease about your safety.
The dental profession’s commitment to patient and staff safety has drastically reduced the risk of any infection. Rest assured, your dental visit will be beneficial for your oral health—and safe for your general health too.
If you would like more information about infection control in the dental office, please contact us or schedule a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Infection Control in the Dental Office” and “Shingles, Herpes Zoster: A One-Sided Facial Rash.”
Compared to other dental restorations—a few of which have been around for over a century—implants are a relatively recent development. But even though it's just now entering its fourth decade, recent advances have catapulted implant therapy well beyond where it began.
That's due mainly to digital technology. Two examples of this, computed tomography (CT) and 3-D printing, are increasing the accuracy and efficiency of implant placement.
Properly placing an implant is one of the most important elements in achieving a natural and attractive result. But finding the best location is often difficult due to a lack of suitable bone volume, the patient's bite or the proximity of anatomical structures like nerves and blood vessels. CT imaging, especially Cone Beam CT scanners (CBCT), is helping to make implant placement planning easier.
Unlike the static, two-dimensional views of standard x-rays, CBCT takes hundreds of images and digitally blends them together to create a virtual 3-D model of the patient's jaw and face. Dentists can view this highly detailed model on a computer monitor from various vantage points and better identify possible obstructions. With better information about what "lies beneath," they can more accurately pinpoint the best implant site.
Creating the ideal plan is one thing—successfully implementing it is another. Dentists often create a surgical guide that helps them drill in precisely the right positions during surgery. The guide, which resembles a mouthguard, fits over the gums and contains marker locations for drilling.
Many dentists are now using 3-D printing to create these surgical guides. A 3-D printer turns a digital model of the guide based on measurements of the patient's mouth and proposed implant locations into an actual physical object "printed out" layer by layer of special polymer material. The end product can be more precise than guides created by other means.
These and other technological developments are helping implant therapy rise to a new level of success. With the resulting increase in accuracy, efficiency and less treatment time, tomorrow's implant patients will be the ultimate beneficiaries.
If you would like more information on restoring missing teeth with dental implants, 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 “How Technology Aids Dental Implant Therapy.”
If you think “vaping” electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes for short) is healthier for your teeth and gums than smoking cigarettes, you might be disappointed with the latest research. A number of studies seem to indicate e-cigarettes could be just as damaging to your mouth as traditional cigarettes.
An e-cigarette is a device containing a chamber for liquids and a means to heat the liquid into a vapor. The user then inhales or “vapes” the vapor, which contains nicotine and flavorings. The heat also pressurizes the vapor causing it to expel as an aerosol into the mouth.
Researchers have found the ingredients and aerosol effect could lead to potential health problems. An Ohio State University researcher found that vaping disrupted the normal balance of microorganisms in the mouth known as the oral microbiome. This imbalance could make it easier for disease-causing bacteria to proliferate, particularly those most responsible for periodontal (gum) disease.
Another study coming out of the University of Rochester and Stony Brook University in New York detected cell damage in gum tissue caused by e-cigarette vapor similar to that caused by regular cigarette smoke. Some of this damage seemed to result from the flavoring agents used in the e-cigarette liquid, as well as nicotine.
Another study from Quebec, Canada appears to concur with the New York study. These researchers found the damage caused by e-cigarette vapor might substantially increase the rate of cell death in oral tissues by as much as 50% over a short period of time. This kind of damage can lead to higher risks of dental diseases like gum disease or tooth decay.
While we don’t know the long-term effect of using e-cigarettes on both oral and general health, these studies are alarming: They seem to show vaping may cause some of the same problems as smoking. With the jury still out, the prudent thing to do is limit or avoid vaping altogether to protect your mouth from these unhealthy outcomes.
A disease happening in one part of your body doesn’t necessarily stay there. Even a localized infection could eventually affect your general health. Periodontal (gum) disease, a bacterial infection that damages gums, teeth and supporting bone, is a case in point.
There’s now growing evidence that gum disease shares links with some other serious systemic diseases. Here are 4 serious health conditions and how gum disease could affect them.
Diabetes. Gum disease could make managing diabetes more difficult—and vice-versa. Chronic inflammation occurs in both conditions, which can then aggravate the other. Diabetics must deal with higher than normal glucose levels, which can also feed oral bacteria and worsen existing gum disease. On the plus side, though, effectively managing both conditions can lessen each one’s health impact.
Heart disease. Gum disease can worsen an existing heart condition and increase the risk of stroke. Researchers have found evidence that chronic inflammation from gum disease could further damage already weakened blood vessels and increase blood clot risks. Treating gum disease aggressively, on the other hand, could lower blood pressure as much as 13 points.
Rheumatoid Arthritis. The increased inflammatory response that accompanies arthritis (and other diseases like lupus or inflammatory bowel disease) can contribute to a higher risk for gum disease. As with the other conditions previously mentioned, chronic inflammation from a gum infection can also aggravate arthritis symptoms. Treating any form of chronic inflammation can ease symptoms in both arthritis and gum disease.
Alzheimer’s disease. The links of Alzheimer’s disease to gum disease are in the numbers: a recent study found people over 70 who’ve had gum disease for ten or more years were 70% more likely to develop dementia than those with healthy gums. There is also evidence that individuals with both Alzheimer’s and gum disease tended to decline more rapidly than those without gum disease.
From the accumulating evidence, researchers now view gum disease as more than an oral problem—it could impact your total health. That’s why you should adopt a disease prevention strategy with daily brushing and flossing and regular dental visits (or whenever you notice puffy, reddened or bleeding gums). Stopping gum disease could provide you a health benefit well beyond preserving your teeth and gums.
One of the key elements in a child’s development is their first set of teeth. Although primary (“baby”) teeth last only a few years, they’re critically important for enabling a child to eat solid foods, speak and smile.
But they also provide one more important benefit—they hold the space in the jaw reserved for the permanent teeth developing just under the gums until they erupt. But if a child loses a primary tooth prematurely because of disease or injury, other teeth may drift into the vacant space and crowd it out for the intended permanent tooth. It may then come in misaligned or remain stuck within the gums (impaction).
To avoid this, we try to treat and preserve a diseased primary tooth if at all practical. For a primary molar, one of the large teeth in the back of the mouth, this might include capping it with a stainless steel crown.
Why a metal crown? Primary molars normally don’t fall out until around ages 10-12, so it may be years for a younger child before their permanent molars erupt. All during that time these particular teeth will encounter heavier biting forces than teeth in the front.
A steel crown is often the best solution for a molar given their longer lifespans and encountered biting forces. The crown’s metal construction can stand up to these forces while still protecting the tooth from re-infection from decay. And because molars are typically outside of the “smile zone” occupied by more visible front teeth, the crown’s metal appearance isn’t usually an aesthetic issue.
Crowning a molar usually takes one visit, a dentist typically performing the procedure with local anesthesia and possibly a mild sedative like nitrous oxide gas (“laughing gas”). After removing any decayed structure from the tooth, the dentist will then fit a pre-formed crown over the remaining structure, sized and shaped to match the original tooth as close as possible.
A stainless steel crown is a cost-effective way to added needed years to a primary molar that could otherwise be lost prematurely. Preserving it may help a child avoid bite problems and expensive future treatments.
If you would like more information on dental care for primary teeth, 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 “Stainless Steel Crowns for Kids: A Safe and Effective Way to Restore Primary Molars.”
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