A Big Year for Dental: What Scientists Discovered in 2013
Thanks to technological advances and research, we learn more about teeth and oral health every year.
From surprising details about our ancient ancestors to technology futuristic enough to nearly be sci-fi, 2013 was full of fascinating oral health discoveries. Here are some of our favorites.
Neolithic Era dentists were hard to come by. As if being a Neolithic shepherd didn’t come with enough problems, recent research on Otzi, the famously preserved ice mummy from about 3300 B.C., shows that he suffered from serious periodontal disease and tooth decay. The decay is attributed to the rise of agriculture during this period: Otzi likely ate more starchy foods such as porridge and bread. Though the mummy is thousands of years old, it’s evident that Otzi also suffered some trauma to a front tooth and chipped a molar.
Most dairy products contain calcium, which helps build strong bones and teeth. But eating cheese, specifically, can also increase saliva production and raise pH levels in the mouth, enough to help “rinse” teeth and rid them of excess acids and bacteria. All it takes to get your saliva flowing is a 1/3-ounce serving. Try a non-fat or low-fat cheese variety to gain saliva benefits without the extra calories.
Alligators may hold the secret to tooth regeneration. We may learn something from alligators’ famously scary smiles. These reptiles grow 2,000 to 3,000 teeth throughout a lifetime, and scientists believe they’ve figured out how. At the base of each alligator tooth is a tiny pocket of stem cells that sits in a layer of tissue called lamina. Humans have this tissue too, but it becomes inactive after we develop adult teeth. If scientists can figure out how alligators’ lamina tissue stays active, they may someday be able to replicate this process for human tooth regeneration.
Bioteeth just around the corner? If the alligator tooth studies don’t work out, there may be bioteeth. Experts have been able to help mice create new teeth by implanting a combination of cells into their mouths. Mice have successfully grown enamel, the hard outer coating of the tooth; dentin, the hard inner layer; and even tooth roots. However, don’t stop taking great care of your existing teeth just yet. Scientists say that application in humans is still years away.
What new oral health research and technologies will come our way in 2014? It’s hard to say – but while we wait, daily flossing and brushing with fluoride toothpaste remain tried and true techniques to maintain good oral health for years to come.