The field of dentistry, like any other field, experiences breakthroughs and new discoveries all the time. Some of the latest advances and discoveries mean good news for our bad breath and cavities. Others remind us that maintaining a healthy lifestyle and good oral hygiene is more important than ever.
1. No more drilling! Many of us dread the sound of the dentist’s drill. However, dentists everywhere may soon be able to hang up their drills. Scientists have discovered a new peptide which, when embedded in a gel or thin film, has the ability to help the cells in your teeth regenerate when you develop a cavity. This peptide could soon eliminate the need for fillings and drills altogether.
The peptide is called melanocyte-stimulating hormone, or MSH for short. Previous studies, reported by the National Academy of Sciences, indicated that MSH encourages the regeneration of bones. Bones and teeth are similar in their make-up, so French scientists applied the peptide in both film and gel form to cavity filled mice teeth. They found that the cavities disappeared after a month.
The potential benefits of this breakthrough could be immense. Though cavity fillings are perfectly safe, cavities and drilling could possibly destroy the nerves and blood vessels in your teeth, making them more likely to fracture. Regenerating the cells in a tooth could prevent that from happening—and eliminate the need for costly dental work like crowns. But don’t slack off on your oral hygiene! Scientists still have to complete a number of clinical trials before MSH will be available for treatment in humans.
However, the peptide doesn’t prevent cavities from developing however, so daily brushing and flossing will still be essential to your oral hygiene. And the peptide will only be effective on small cavities, so regular checkups at the dentist will still be important if you want your dentist to find those cavities early.
2. Botox We are all familiar with Botox as a cosmetic treatment, but did you know that some dentists can now use Botox to treat temporomandibular joint disorders (TMJ). On March 6, the Massachusetts Board of Registration in Dentistry unanimously approved the use of Botox for the treatment of TMJ. Massachusetts joins at least 20 other states who have addressed the use of Botox in dental practices. There are no national uniform regulations regarding the use of Botox. Rules for the use of botox by dentists vary from state to state. Some states allow properly trained dentists to use botox for both dental and cosmetic purposes, but others only allow it if there is a clear dental benefit for the patient. However, if you’re considering Botox for any reason, make sure that it is administered by a trained professional.
3. Smoking and tooth loss in post-menopausal women Statistically women are generally better at brushing and flossing than men. However, if a woman is a long time smoker, then her chances of tooth loss because of periodontal disease after menopause are high. There has long been a direct correlation between smoking and periodontal disease. Smoking reduces the amount of saliva that the mouth produces, and it also damages your immune response to bacteria—making smokers more likely to develop periodontal disease. In addition, as the American Dental Association explains, “Nicotine also has been shown to reduce bone density and bone mineral factors while estrogen hormones have been found to be lower among women who smoke.” This, combined with the natural reduction of estrogen in post-menopausal women, puts older female smokers doubly at risk for tooth loss.
4. An iPhone that can smell bad breath? We use our smart phones for what seems like everything nowadays, and soon we’ll be able to use them to tell us if we suffer from bad breath. Adamant Technologies, a small startup in San Francisco, has created a computer chip capable of detecting smells. Adamant plans to market a device (that will sell for a $100 or less) which plugs into the iPhone and can be used in conjunction with other apps to let you know if you’re suffering from the dreaded halitosis. The average human has 400 sensors to detect smells. Adamant’s chip has 2,000, the same number as a dog. And the chip can do more than just tell you if your breath smells bad. Adamant also hopes to use the device to help monitor medical conditions like diabetes and test blood alcohol.
5. There is such a thing as too much fluoride We always hear about the benefits of fluoride and how it can protect our teeth. It is so important that the fluoridation of our nation’s water supplies in 1945 has been hailed as one of the most important advances in public health in the twentieth century by the Center for Disease Control. However, a woman in Michigan discovered that too much fluoride can have detrimental effects on the body’s bone density. The woman, a resident in Lansing, Michigan, had consumed so much tea (which is a natural source of fluoride) that she had to have all of her teeth removed because of brittleness and she suffered from pain in her lower back, legs, and arms. The high fluorine concentration in the body characterized by skeletal fluorosis causes bones to harden and become less elastic, which makes the body more susceptible to fractures and, in the Michigan woman’s case, caused her teeth to so brittle that they had to be removed. Her bone structure had thickened and became less elastic, causing her discomfort. The good news is that recovery is possible with a reduction in the consumption of fluoride. The patient has stopped drinking tea, and her pain is diminished, but it’s going to take some time before her bones recover. Her teeth, unfortunately, are gone forever.