Friday, January 29, 2010

Washington’s Unseen Oral Health Debate

President Obama’s state of the union address the other night sent a clear message that the health care reform debate will continue in some form. Whatever happens, lawmakers should not overlook what happens above the neck—the importance that oral health plays in an individual’s overall health.

The good news is that today, more than 174 million Americans have dental coverage, and 97 percent of that is provided by stand-alone and dedicated dental insurance companies. Dental insurance companies have a singular focus that has resulted in affordable coverage—the average individual plan is around $30 a month—with an emphasis on preventive services like sealants and fluoride treatments.

The old adage—“if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”—should apply here. The system works. Yet there are proposals in Congress that would force up to 50 million children to switch dental coverage from a stand-alone plan to one administered by a medical insurer (like HMOs). This overlooks the benefit of stand-alone plans and would put Americans’ oral health needs at risk.

Congress should move forward to overhaul our health care system, but we shouldn’t attempt to ‘fix’ what already works in providing Americans high quality oral health care.

Guest Blog Post by Fay Donohue, President and CEO of DentaQuest

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Predictions Can Come True in Dentistry

I see lots of predictions at this time of year and it is interesting to see how close they are to reality.

In dentistry, new predictive tools that indicate whether a person will get cavities are very close. New technology is helping dentists move from treating disease, that is waiting for a cavity to form and repairing the tooth, to emphasizing prevention and wellness -- by determining which individuals are at greater risk for cavities and showing them simple interventions that may save them from getting dental disease.

Researchers have perfected a technique called ATP-bioluminescence that measures the energy source for the cavity-causing bacteria in an individual’s mouth. And interestingly, the results are as accurate --and possibly even more accurate -- than sending mouth swabs to a lab for analysis. The energy source is called ATP.

A hand-held test is now available for use in the dentist’s office that measures the amount of ATP in the cavity-causing bacteria of a patient’s mouth with an instrument about the size of a television remote control. As part of a routine exam, the dental hygienist simply takes a swab sample from the patient’s teeth and in fifteen seconds, the device analyzes the energy in the bad bacteria. Counts below 1,500 are seen as “good” and those reaching 10,000 are “bad”.

Bad does not mean that you are doomed to a mouthful of cavities. But it will alert your dentist that intervention is needed. The first step may be to reduce the acidity in your mouth, and therefore reduce the energy available to feed the cavity-causing bacteria. Your dentist may suggest brushing with baking soda toothpastes or using specially formulated mouth rinses which reduce acid levels and help reduce or eliminate cavities for you.

Dentists also strongly recommend the use of prescription fluoride gels and rinses which help small cavities heal themselves. Another good idea is to use products (like chewing gum) sweetened with xylitol instead of sugar because xylitol has been shown to reduce the risk of forming new cavities.

ATP-bioluminescence looks promising. It will be interesting to hear what dental offices think about this new technology as way to help patients prevent dental disease.

I am always on the look out for details about new technological advancements in dentistry, especially those which promise to help patients and their dentists prevent disease. There is currently some very innovative research underway that may lead to surprising health outcomes. I’ll be bringing them to your attention as I learn more about them.

For now, you can see how the ATP bioluminescence meter works at: