Posts for: March, 2018
For over a century now, health providers have depended on blood and urine samples to diagnose many forms of disease. Very soon, though, we may routinely use a different bodily fluid that's easier and cheaper to collect: saliva.
Secreted by six hundred or more glands in the mouth, saliva performs a number of important functions for digestion and overall oral health. Saliva lubricates the mouth to make food easier to swallow. Its enzymes begin the digestion process breaking down food even before we swallow. It also helps wash out food particles that could build up as plaque on the teeth and harbor disease-causing bacteria.
In terms of dental health, its greatest role is as a neutralizer of food acid. It's natural after we eat for the acid levels in the mouth to rise above normal. If acid remains in contact with enamel for an extended period of time it can soften the enamel's minerals and make it easier for them to erode. Within thirty minutes to an hour after eating, saliva neutralizes acid and restores the mouth's normal pH level. Saliva also contains calcium and phosphate materials, which helps restore some of the minerals the enamel may have lost from the acid contact.
But we're discovering saliva can do even more: we can now use it as an indicator for certain conditions in the body. Like blood or urine, saliva contains molecules that can serve as biological markers for different types of disease. By employing devices calibrated to detect these markers, we can use saliva to uncover cancer, diabetes or other systemic conditions.
As these particular devices are manufactured and become more available, the use of saliva for disease diagnosis will rise. In the future, you may not need a trip to the bathroom or wince at a needle stick — a swab of your saliva will do!
If you would like more information on saliva's role in your 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 “Saliva: How it is Used to Diagnose Disease.”
Saliva is a true workhorse among bodily fluids — it breaks down food for digestion, keeps harmful bacteria in check and neutralizes acid that is destructive to tooth surfaces. So when saliva flow is chronically diminished, it’s more serious than the uncomfortable feeling of “dry mouth” — it can have a detrimental effect on your overall health.
It’s normal to experience temporary mouth dryness: in the morning (because saliva flow slows during sleep), when we’re under stress, or after smoking or consuming certain foods and beverages like onions or coffee. But chronic dry mouth (“xerostomia”) is different — the mouth remains dry for extended periods, leading to problems like tooth decay caused by inadequate acid neutralization.
Medications are one of the most common causes for xerostomia. According to the Surgeon General, there are over 500 medications — both prescription and over-the-counter — that can cause it, including antihistamines, diuretics and antidepressants. Radiation or chemotherapy used for cancer treatment may also cause dry mouth, sometimes permanently. There are also systemic conditions that affect saliva flow like diabetes, Parkinson’s disease, cystic fibrosis, and many autoimmune diseases.
Treating chronic dry mouth will of course depend on the underlying cause. If drug-related the first approach should be to find a substitute medication that won’t as readily cause reduced saliva flow. If that’s not possible, then it’s helpful to drink more water when taking the medication (a few sips before and a full glass afterward). You can also cut back on caffeinated, acidic or sugary foods and drinks as well as alcohol, and refrain from tobacco use.
A saliva stimulant might also help. Besides prescription medication, there are other products like xylitol, a natural alcohol sugar found in chewing gum, toothpaste or rinses, that help increase saliva flow — and xylitol also inhibits the growth of decay-causing bacteria.
The most important thing for chronic dry mouth is maintaining consistent daily hygiene through brushing and flossing and regular dental cleanings and checkups. Helping to increase your saliva flow and making every effort to prevent dental disease will help keep this condition from harming your teeth and gums.
If you would like more information on the causes and treatment of dry mouth, 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 “Dry Mouth.”
When they’re introducing a new movie, actors often take a moment to pay tribute to the people who helped make it happen — like, you know, their dentists. At least that’s what Charlize Theron did at the premiere of her new spy thriller, Atomic Blonde.
"I just want to take a quick moment to thank my dentists," she told a Los Angeles audience as they waited for the film to roll. "I don’t even know if they’re here, but I just want to say thank you."
Why did the starring actress/producer give a shout-out to her dental team? It seems she trained and fought so hard in the action sequences that she actually cracked two teeth!
“I had severe tooth pain, which I never had in my entire life,” Theron told an interviewer from Variety. At first, she thought it was a cavity — but later, she found out it was more serious: One tooth needed a root canal, and the other had to be extracted and replaced with a dental implant — but first, a bone grafting procedure was needed. “I had to put a donor bone in [the jaw] to heal,” she noted, “and then I had another surgery to put a metal screw in there.”
Although it might sound like the kind of treatment only an action hero would need, bone grafting is now a routine part of many dental implant procedures. The reason is that without a sufficient volume of good-quality bone, implant placement is difficult or impossible. That’s because the screw-like implant must be firmly joined with the jawbone, so it can support the replacement tooth.
Fortunately, dentists have a way to help your body build new bone: A relatively small amount of bone material can be placed in the missing tooth’s socket in a procedure called bone grafting. This may come from your own body or, more likely, it may be processed bone material from a laboratory. The donor material can be from a human, animal or synthetic source, but because of stringent processing techniques, the material is safe for human use. Once it is put in place your body takes over, using the grafted material as a scaffold on which to build new bone cells. If jawbone volume is insufficient for implants, it can often be restored to a viable point in a few months.
Better yet, when grafting material is placed in the tooth socket immediately after extraction, it can keep most of the bone loss from occurring in the first place, enabling an implant to be placed as soon as possible — even before the end of a movie’s shooting schedule.
Will Atomic Blonde prove to be an action-movie classic? Only time will tell. But one thing’s for sure: When Charlize Theron walks down the red carpet, she won’t have to worry about a gap in her smile.
If you have questions about bone grafting or dental implants, please contact our office or schedule a consultation. You can read more in the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Dental Implant Surgery” and “Immediate Dental Implant.”