It's likely that the condition of our teeth influences health over many parts of our body beyond the digestive system.
Researchers have tied oral bacteria and tooth decay to a number of other illnesses, from heart disease and diabetes to kidney disease and premature birth.
While brushing thoroughly twice a day with fluoride toothpaste, flossing and rinsing with an anti-microbial mouthwash is still the standard of care for preventing cavities and gum disease, some new twists are being tried in the way people brush, rinse and otherwise protect their (hopefully) permanent choppers.
From the University of Gothenburg in Sweden, where researchers have been experimenting with a new toothpaste that contains three times as much fluoride as standard toothpaste, comes a comparison of brushing techniques.
The bottom line from the 16-volunteer experiment was that using a high-fluoride toothpaste three times a day provided four times greater fluoride protection than brushing with a standard toothpaste twice a day.
The study also tested a new "brushless" way for the third application of fluoride — rubbing toothpaste onto the front of the teeth with a finger. Researchers said the "massage" method is a good way to give teeth a third dose of fluoride during the day, but should not replace brushing morning and evening.
Researchers at the University of Leeds report they're developing a new type of anti-cavity gel that may eliminate the need to drill and fill minor cavities.
The gel is designed to penetrate microscopic pores of a decaying tooth, and then releases a small peptide (amino acid chain) that develops into fibers that attract calcium.
Basically, the gel draws minerals into a damaged tooth and repairs a developing cavity from the inside out. While early tests of the material have given positive results, the researchers caution that the gel is likely to work best on very small, early-stage cavities. Major tooth decay will still likely require artificial fillings rather than self-repair.
At the School of Dentistry at the University of California at Los Angeles, researchers have been refining a new mouthwash that specifically targets a strain of bacteria that's the main cause of tooth decay and cavities.
The mouthwash is the result of nearly a decade of research conducted by Wenyuan Shi, chair of the dental school's oral biology section. It uses specially targeted anti-microbial peptides to exclusively attack Streptococcus mutans bacteria responsible for the onset of most cavities.
In one early trial, 12 people who'd rinsed with the mouthwash just once had nearly eliminated S. mutans over a four-day testing period, the journal Caries Research reported in late 2011.
Conventional mouthwashes kill oral bacteria for only about 12 hours, and destroy both harmful and benign pathogens, possibly disrupting the body's normal balance of helpful microbes.
The product, licensed to a company founded by Shi, is undergoing additional testing as an investigational new drug under an application filed with the Food and Drug Administration.