What's Eating You?

      After thirty years of practicing the art and science of dentistry, I have come to the conclusion that there are two things that are the most destructive to the oral cavity: Plaque and Bruxism. It is these two processes that lead to inflammation of the gums and decay of the teeth, and pain that can extend to the muscles of the head, neck and shoulders, as well as the gums and teeth.

      Bacterial cells in and on the body, outnumber human cells by 10 to 1. Only recently have researchers realized the beneficial roles these microbes play in fostering health. Plaque is the combination of saliva, food particles and beneficial bacteria in general. 

      Bruxism is a disorder of repetitive, unconscious contraction of the muscles of the jaw. Bruxism can also represent a subconscious habit or may be totally involuntary. In other words, the person does not know they are doing it.


      Our body's immune system 'works' with the beneficial bacteria to keep harmful bacteria from affecting our health. The pellicle is the layer of proteins, enzymes and bacterial fragments that forms on the surface of a healthy tooth. This layer forms the foundation of an ecosystem that can protect our teeth from harmful bacteria.

      Unfortunately, if this foundation is allowed to over populate with the bacteria typically found in the oral cavity, many of the harmful bacteria will be able to establish themselves in the plaque. This can be likened to gangs taking over a peaceful neighborhood. The immune system has a difficult time correcting this imbalance. 

      Just like law enforcement has a hard time establishing peace in a gang ridden neighborhood, harmful bacteria are able to cause inflammation and decay. Brushing and flossing daily, as well as visiting the dentist regularly significantly reduce the effects of harmful bacteria. Fluoride also helps the immune system keep a check on bacteria. Fluoride can be compared to using antibacterial soap to keep our hands clean. 


      Several symptoms are commonly associated with bruxism, including hypersensitive teeth, aching jaw muscles, and headaches. Bruxism causes tooth wear, and may even cause teeth to break and dental restorations, such as fillings and crowns, to be repeatedly lost or damaged. Bruxism is defined as the excessive clenching and/or grinding of the teeth.

      There are two main types of bruxism: that which occurs during sleep and that which occurs during wakefulness. In individuals without bruxism, the teeth are not in contact. It is estimated that the teeth are in contact for less than 20 minutes per day, mostly during chewing and swallowing.

      Many studies have reported significant stress factors for bruxism, some consider emotional stress to be the main triggering factor. Given the strong association between bruxism and stress factors, the role of stress intervention could be argued to be central to the management.

      Occlusal splints may be made as a treatment for bruxism. One such splint is called, nti-tss. This splint helps the brain to automatically and subconsciously reduce the clenching/grinding force.

Please contact our office if you have any questions about plaque or bruxism. Dr. Bertagna looks forward to sharing with you his experience about these topics.

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