Monday, February 25, 2019

The Fourth Dimension of Orthodontics ... Time (A reason Orthodontics should be left to Board Certified Specialists and why Invisalign can do more harm than good in younger patients)


The Fourth Dimension in Orthodontics … Time.

(A reason Orthodontics should be left to Board Certified Specialists and why Invisalign* can do more harm than good in younger patients)



It has taken many years of practicing as a Board Certified Orthodontist to feel that I have a complete and full understanding of development as it affects orthodontic treatment.  This is because there are specific growth patterns, family histories, nutrition, normal and abnormal eruption patterns, and many other more localized variables we must consider and sometimes predict.


Orthodontists are specifically taught to consider three main dimension in space: the Transverse dimension (sided to side) such as posterior crossbites and narrow jaws, Anterior-Posterior dimension (front to back) such as an underbite or the dreaded "buck teeth", and finally the Vertical dimension which encompasses severe issues such as anterior openbites or severe deepbites.  Most people can readily visualize discrepancies in any one of these dimensions just from looking at models and photos of the teeth/face.


But there is a very important Fourth dimension, that of Time.  In fact, it can be easy to dismiss just how important the dimension of time can be with orthodontic treatment of children.  "Time" in this sense does not mean just how long the actual treatment takes rather it is a dimension of the malocclusion which causes changes during the active treatment and during the prepubertal growth of a child, changes that are specific for that individual based on the direction of jaw growth, pattern of erupts and relationship of the jaws to each other.


Important Repercussions of Time as a dimension of Orthodontic treatment


1.     It is ridiculous to use removal aligner trays/invisalign on children still growing as all of the trays are made from an initial scan; as the patient inevitable grows, the relationship of the jaws change.  In the end, without constant re-scanning and new trays fabricated every few visits, the upper teeth may look straight(ish) but they will very likely not fit the lower teeth in function at all and may lead to interferences in the bite, instabilities and eventual relapse, excessive wear and/or chronic jaw pain (TMD).  Sadly, parents may not see this for years after and may not even realize it was introduced by the poor orthodontics (Invisalign or any other of the dozen clear aligner systems on the market).


2.     Every patient must be treated more individually the younger they are placed into appliances


3.     Changes early on will magnify over time; this can either be a good change or can be a bad change; this magnification can create significantly different outcomes on the same patient based on when a patient is treated and how well their specific growth pattern is understood as it relates to the that very important fourth dimension of Time.

4.     Clinician knowledge and experience may the most important factor in treatment outcome. 


5.     There are MANY clinicians that are either ignorant of Time as a dimension of treatment or they ignore growth and development while offering inferior options (Invisialign to pre-adolescents) for profit with little to no regard for your family’s health.  Too many doctors just tell patients what they want to hear to get them into their practices.


Child Skull versus Adult skull

Examples of common Time dependent treatments

Consider the following more simple and common scenarios: as we correct the width of a narrow upper jaw in crossbite with a palatal expander (see my earlier blogs about expansion), we must also consider the growth over the next few years since the lower jaw grows bringing the wider portion of the lower jaw forward relative to the stationary upper jaw (causing a crossbite to "return" not from relapse, but because the jaw is now in a different relationship).  Likewise, as we close an openbite, we must consider the direction of jaw growth and the rate of growth over time in treatment (and thereafter) as the angle of the lower jaw determines its relative growth forward v. downward and away from the stationary upper jaw.  We have to consider muscle forces and swallowing habits, breathing issues during sleep and chronic seasonal allergies, we even must gauge and predict growth based on genetic predisposition despite diets with hormone injected meats and milk that skew our known predictors.  And many times, we must adjust our treatment mid-stream to refine our goals over time and development.   Orthodontics is a game of chess, if your doctor is playing checkers, you are in the wrong office.

Above all, experienced and thoughtful Orthodontists realize that changes in the pre-adolescent occlusion will magnify with time; better things can get better but problems can (and will) become worse.  Understanding what will happen (or is likely to happen) throughout and after treatment provides a better correction and much more stable outcome while realizing adjustments must be made earlier in treatment prevent iatrogenic (doctor induced) problems form worsening.  Understanding time as a dimension of orthodontic treatment also helps to determine when the best window for treatment may be; some cases must wait until growth is complete while others need to begin early in growth in an effort to accentuate that growth and "catch up" while there is growth available.  Once growth stops, there is no getting it back; at that point we start considering surgery of the jaw to make large corrections.

"Above all, experienced and thoughtful Orthodontists realize that changes in the pre-adolescent occlusion will magnify with time; better things can get better but problems can (and will) become worse."

Take for example the following patient:




Note that growth of the lower jaw has been restricted and deficient; research has shown over the last 100 years that these patient, left untreated, will always remain deficient.  This is a factor of muscle forces and occlusion forcing the lower jaw back against a rather subtle growth potential.  Distal dislocation of the lower jaw essentially stops cell division at the growth area and the jaw simply does not grow forward.  Knowing this, we can remove the roadblocks that are holding the lower jaw back, remove the obstructions that cause the patient to pull her jaw back (into the growth area) and actually enhance remaining growth as seen below.



Now after early treatment, you can appreciate the forward growth of the lower jaw.  This could only be accomplished with early intervention during a time that the patient still had sufficient time to grow.  It still required correction in all three other dimensions with expansion of the upper jaw (Transverse), opening of the bite (Vertical) and coordinating the lower jaw to fit in the forward position (Anterior-Posterior).  But time was the most important factor, starting early, removing the obstructions early, de-programming the backward bite and allowing the patient to growth with forward pressure instead of backward pulling.  Without growth over time, there would be no correction of the overjet, the teeth would not fit and we would have to consider more significant treatment such as removal of permanent teeth (adversely affecting the profile) or jaw surgery at a later date.


So who can you trust to determine the best time for treatment?

Only one professional is trained with the most current knowledge and builds the most pertinent experience to be able to consistently guide you and that is an experienced Board certified Orthodontist.  Waiting for a referral from a dentist or pedodontist relies on their more limited knowledge and may handicap the treatment for your child.  Orthodontists will be able to tell by around age 6 to 7 if there is a severe problem and if early intervention would be beneficial.  If it is not recommended, they will monitor your child until the best window of treatment may arrive (or until it is determined no treatment is necessary).


"Waiting for a referral from a dentist or pedodontist relies on their more limited knowledge and may handicap the treatment"


A final note about Braces v. Invisalign* in kids under 14



So many times I am asked about why I "don’t like" Invisalign or why I recommend braces for kids more consistently.  My answer is that braces are better, in almost every case and every scenario.  Braces are faster (for similar movements), braces move roots much better and farther, braces are more consistent and non-compliance based, braces can push teeth down into the bone and pull them out of the bone to level smiles and open/close bites where Invisalign is simply inferior.  Braces can also correct overjets or even underbites where Invisalign routinely fails.  This is proven in peer reviewed literature over and over (see my blogs on Does Invisalign Work as Advertised?).  Unfortunately (but by their design), paid advertising is all the public can find on google.


Ultimately if Invisalign is only 41% as accurate as braces (j.ajodo.2007.05.018;www.ajodo.org), has a 27% passing rate versus braces in Board reviewed cases and "deficient in its ability to correct overjet & occlusal contacts" (j.ajodo.2005.06.002;www.ajodo.org), can only move an incisor tooth 57% of what braces can do with very simple movement (j.ajodo.org.2013.10.022;www.ajodo.org), shows minimal improvement in occlusal scores after treatment and even negative changes in posterior occlusion (2.5x worse!) (j.ajodo.2004.07.016; www.ajodo.org); I can go on and on but really I would just say, I won’t treat to such a lesser standard if I can achieve a much better result with braces.  If someone is willing to charge you for a 40% to 60% result then I would openly question their standards, motives and possibly their ethics.  Many cases treated by Invisalign would be considered malpractice in the past but public perception is driven by direct advertising and false media/social media to the point, ignorance has become bliss because it allows some sort of "treatment" without appliances fixed to the teeth (braces).



Now if you know those limitations going in, then I can accept a lesser result to some degree but if I know the result will be unstable, detrimental or simply not effective at all, I won’t "treat" as this is a failure in any other arena and certain to relapse (as is so much more common with Invisalign even confirmed in a study released this year comparing braces to Invisalign). As a Board certified specialist, I am held to a greater standard.



*The term Invisalign is a trademarked name for the most widespread type or brand of clear aligners (provided by Align Technologies) which is credited for the development and early advancements of the technique using digital scans to produce a digital image of the teeth for manipulation.  However there are more than a dozen nearly identical clear aligner systems under different brands, some specific only to specialists (Orchestrate 3D); for brevity, I generally use the name "Invisalign" to refer to any clear aligner system.

If you have questions or comments concerning this or any orthodontic question, please feel free to make a complimentary new-patient appointment at either my Steiner Ranch location or my North-central Austin location on West 35th street and MoPac.







Dr. James R. Waters is a 1996 graduate from UTHSC Dental School in San Antonio, 1997 graduate of Advanced Dentistry from the UNMC in Nebraska and the 2001 Valedictorian graduate from the prestigious Saint Louis University Orthodontic Program receiving the J.P. Marshall award for clinical excellence in 2001.  He holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Science, Doctorate in Dental Surgery, a post-doctorate certificate in Advanced Dentistry, post-doctorate Degree in Orthodontics & Dentofacial Orthopedics and a Master of Science Degree in Orthodontics and is a Diplomate of the American Board of Orthodontics.  Dr. Waters and his wife of 22 years live in Austin, TX with their 4 children where he has a thriving, multi-faceted Specialist practice with locations in Steiner Ranch and North-Central Austin.  You can learn more about Dr. Waters at BracesAustin.com.


Contemporary Orthodontics on 35th Street, Central Austin






Steiner Ranch Orthodontics, Steiner Ranch, NW Austin



Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Fake Orthodontics Gaining Ground


Fake Orthodontics Gaining Ground

(And the Culture of False advertising)

 

As a practicing Orthodontist I meet with dental specialists regularly for continued education, review of difficult cases and overall health of the profession; I have done so regularly for the last 23 years.  Now, at the middle of my career as a Board certified specialist, I feel somewhat qualified to reflect on the state of dentistry, and specifically specialty dentistry, in today’s marketplace.


Although politics has focused on medical insurance and general healthcare (for better or worse) there has been a curious lack of attention to engage the field of dentistry in the negotiations.  This has allowed dental related companies to hide in the shadows as they promote their own profit based treatments directly to the public, many now advertised as not even needing the doctor (and certainly not needing the specialists).  This phenomenon is a result of very large companies combined with social media campaigns that inundated the public with the company’s own agenda, directly to Facebook and other email lists.  Nowhere has this been more harmful than to the field of Orthodontics.

 

 

As the reader, you may ask “how can a company dictate dental care without doctors?”; you may even ask “aren’t there laws to prevent practicing without a license?”

 

In response, it has been a slow but deliberate strategy by certain unethical, profit hungry groups that employ un-ethical dentists and specialists to push them into the range of credibility.  Behind the scenes, there is a battle over standards of care but ultimately dentistry is a business and many succumb to the notion that if you don’t feel you can beat them, you have no other choice but to join them.  This is in fact exactly how Fake Orthodontic Companies like Invisalign (and their subsidiary Smile Club) have become the juggernauts in the room.  Currently there are nearly one hundred lawsuits by national and state dental organizations, boards and individual Orthodontists in the courts against Smile Club and other aligners, but they take time and they get buried by google ads paid for by …. you guessed it, Invisalign.

 

As a history, the idea of clear aligners was not a new one; many of us used clear aligners (made in-house) to hold and correct small rotations or mild relapse after treatment even 35 years ago.  However we all recognized and experienced the extreme limitations of removable plastic trays.  Also at that time, few dentists tried to perform orthodontics without specialty training; in fact family General Dentists would refer complex cases readily to their specialty counterparts/colleagues including surgery to Oral Surgeons, tough root canals to Endodontists, extensive gum disease to Periodontists, kids to Pedodontists and orthodontics to the Orthodontist.  This provided the environment for the General Dentist to become an expert in restorative care as well as the gatekeeper to more advanced treatments that required a higher level of training.

 

“Behind the scenes, there is a battle over standards of care but ultimately dentistry is a business and many succumb to the notion that if you don’t feel you can beat them, you have no other choice but to join them.  This is in fact exactly how … Invisalign [and other “Fake Orthodontic” clear aligner companies] have become the juggernauts in the room.”

 

So what happened?

As competition heated up in larger urban areas, we started to see general dentists pushing the limits to treat more complex issues to avoid losing the income stream from what they perceived as more profitable procedures (more “profitable” because they generally required specialty training to adequately and predictably treat).  Soon, there were whole groups of general dentists claiming specialty status to the public simply because they had seen what they felt like was a significant number of patients.  Of course they were learning on those very patients and were undoubtedly repeating the same mistakes over and over on those same [unsuspecting] patients. 

 

Many would then teach other non-specialized dentists so it became a cycle or grey area in dentistry.  But dentists far outnumber specialist by the definition and specialists had little power to dissuade the American Dental Association (the parent organization of all dentists including specialists) from allowing this progressing breach of standards and ethics.  It is now not uncommon for untrained newly graduated general dentists to see patients already in treatment and then question these cases that they don’t even have the records for and certainly not the training to fully understand.   This sews more discontent and distrust in the public as patients start hearing multiple stories from different doctors and it only serves to confuse patients and leave them open to professional advertising by companies directly.

 

What is the current state of the specialty of Orthodontics?

Today, Orthodontics has become synonymous with Invisalign (by their design, not ours) to new generations through social media and false advertising that would have never been allowed in traditional media.  Add to this a new generation of unethical dentists (and now Orthodontists) driven by pure profit, doctors that know very well they are not offering or providing the best care available (or sometimes even proficient/adequate care without introducing more problems).

 

As these general dentists stopped referring patients to the Orthodontists, the very Orthodontists began to move toward Invialign based practices.  They have done this despite the research that clearly and unequivocally proves Invisalign and the other dozen aligner systems far inferior to traditional braces.  But the public continues to be bombarded by advertising to the point now that Invisalign has purchased other companies like Smile Club that push aligner treatment with no dentist at all.  Ironically, now the general dentists are trying to fight the doctorless trend even though it is they themselves that are funding the company via their own Invisalign cases.

 

Clear aligner treatment; straight teeth but with no posterior contact; good luck chewing that steak!

“Straight” teeth from clear aligners with little to no contact and recession across the arch.


Teeth “straightened” by Invisalign but left protruding forward and out of the bone.
 
 
 
 

What is the Result for the Public?

By normalizing inferior treatment as the new acceptable standard, by accepting that Orthodontics is only used to line up the front six teeth (you will notice there is no mention of function on the many Invisalign commercials/testimonials), doctors and the public alike are rapidly turning a very scientific and complex profession into nothing more than a nail salon or mall kiosk (and there are no cliff notes to treat a patient).  In fact, these companies are not even attempting to hide this as they push to put kiosks in malls and drug stores.  Forget that it takes two to three years of post-doctorate study to even be remotely capable to treat moderate orthodontic cases.  Forget that poor function of your bite can lead to severe headaches, Chronic TMD, severe wear of teeth and early loss of teeth.  Forget about the airways, facial proportions and the chewing efficacy, forget about sleep apnea and periodontal disease.  According to these companies, if the front teeth are straight, then the job must be good/acceptable.

 


Determining Facial esthetics when treatment planning; moving teeth can affect the facial height and smile line relative to lips; but not with aligners like Invisalign or other Fake Orthodontics.
 
 
 
 
 

 
Typical forces figured in moving teeth.
 
 
 
 
 
 
Physics mixed with Biology: A key component in Orthodontics.
 

Is there any case that can be treated better or faster with Invisalign (Fake Orthodontics) v. traditional braces?

I cannot think of a single case that is treated better or even remotely as quickly as traditional braces and research bears this out over and over (see research cited in my other blogs on Does Invisalign work?) In fact there are inherent disadvantages including compliance, weak material that fatigues, trays that loosen and cannot move certain longer teeth, lack of root movement and even opening of the bite in many cases.  There are certainly mild cases that can be treated  (which is why Invisalign was accepted early on) but today, aligner trays are pushed on everyone as “invisible orthodontics” because doctors can run four or even five locations and just give out trays instead of monitoring patients and actually treating them. And if the standard of care is just to straighten the front six teeth, well that really is simple.  Lucky for these snake-oil doctors, you may well not get the joint pain, recession, tooth loss or damage for years so they will be long-gone and past the statutes of limitation for any recourse.

 

Does my Dentist Care about the Best for Me and My Family?

If your doctor is not a specialist, then they do not have the knowledge to be the best.  It could be a poor diagnosis, an inability to see problems, a lack of collecting the correct data or lack of interpreting data correctly; it could be the unethical approach of treating to a lesser standard or allowing a computer tech to design and move the teeth for them with no doctor or experience at all.  Either way, only the Specialist has the complete knowledge, experience and skill to give you the best.  Do you need the best?  Maybe not; but can the untrained spot the difference between those cases? My experience is they cannot.

 
 

“If all you are being told is what the doctor thinks you want to hear (or what your kid thinks is popular), then you may as well head to the kiosk and save yourself some money.”

  

Now if you go to a specialist and they only offer aligner trays claiming they are superior/faster or more reliable to traditional braces, then you are being a fed a tall tale from someone who definitely knows better.  If you have a simple alignment case/relapse or if you are offered aligner trays with the disclaimer of expecting less of a result on more moderate cases, then that is a decision you can make (but it is you making an informed decision).  If all you are being told is what the doctor thinks you want to hear (or what your kid thinks is popular), then you may as well head to the kiosk and save yourself some money.  Ultimately, it is the public that will determine the fate of Orthodontics in the US; laws are driven by public desires (just look at legalized drugs).  There will be those of us that adhere to a higher standard, those Orthodontists that won’t put their name on inferior treatment even if it costs them those patients and families.   But we/they will be a dying breed and if you or your family present with a moderate to severe malocclusion, you may certainly be out of luck.

Central Austin Location, 1814 35th St.
 
 
 Steiner Ranch Location, 4302 N. Quinlan Park, Austin
 
 
 
If you have questions or comments concerning this or any orthodontic question, please feel free to make a complimentary new-patient appointment at either my Steiner Ranch location or my North-central Austin location on West 35th street and MoPac.
 
Dr. James R. Waters is a 1996 graduate from UTHSC Dental School in San Antonio, 1997 graduate of Advanced Dentistry from the UNMC in Nebraska and the 2001 Valedictorian graduate from the prestigious Saint Louis University Orthodontic Program receiving the J.P. Marshall award for clinical excellence in 2001.  He holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Science, Doctorate in Dental Surgery, a post-doctorate certificate in Advanced Dentistry, post-doctorate Degree in Orthodontics & Dentofacial Orthopedics and a Master of Science Degree in Orthodontics and is a Diplomate of the American Board of Orthodontics.  Dr. Waters and his wife of 23 years live in Austin, TX with their 4 children where he has a thriving, multi-faceted Specialist practice with locations in Steiner Ranch and North-Central Austin.  You can learn more about Dr. Waters at BracesAustin.com.
 
 

 
 

 
 
 

Thursday, November 15, 2018

Bad Breathe and Palatal Expansion


How does Palatal Expansion RPE affect Halitosis (Bad Breathe)?




Halitosis can be a significant problem in teens and young adults; there are entire industries built on covering up bad breathe or providing products to improve oral hygiene. 
 
 


One of the many companies that focus product development for halitosis
 
 

Of course not brushing or flossing will lead to chronic bad breathe but did you know bad breathe can also be the result of certain combinations of malocclusion, poor airways and/or chronic inflammation of the nasal soft-tissue.  One of the more important factors in children can be a narrow maxilla.

 


These boys demonstrate a typical narrow maxilla with airway obstruction and chronic “mouth-breathing”.  Note the lip posture at rest being open, allowing the oral cavity to remain dry and preventing the natural cleaning from the saliva.
 

The reason the maxilla would be narrow can be from over-active musculature around the mouth and cheeks (thumb sucking, late pacifier), diseases and syndromes that affect growth, adverse tongue activity or obstructed airways causing a patient to breathe through their mouth instead of their nose.

 

This patient may seem to be the classic appearance of a character dreaming of sugar plums dancing through her head but in reality, this young lady presents with a serious malocclusion including skeletal dysplasia and a high, narrow maxilla which can and will lead to severe crowding, possible TMD and, yes, halitosis.


This child is demonstrating mouth breathing during sleep; not the decay visible on front teeth from having a constantly dry mouth.  Halitosis can start very early in development which s why children should see an accredited Orthodontist by age 6 to 7.
 
 
 
No matter the cause, the result can be chronic bad breathe (halitosis).  At a chemical level, Halitosis is caused by volatile sulfur compounds (VSC’s) which are formed by the proteolysis of sulfur-containing amino acids (cysteine, methionine) and proteins by the bacteria found in the oral cavity.  When someone has specific bacteria (gram-negative), acidic saliva, decreased saliva or basic gingivitis, the conditions are ripe for proteolysis.    


An illustration of the bacteria present in the oral cavity, bacteria that can turn proteins and amino acids into volatile sulfur compounds (VSC’s) which cause chronic halitosis.



So with patients experiencing bad breathe as adolescents and pre-adolescents, what does the Orthodontist look for and what can they do to help rid these young patients of this offensive and embarrassing infliction?


Your Orthodontist will evaluate your child’s upper jaw (maxilla) to see if the arch is narrow and constricted; they will assess the airways and determine whether expansion is appropriate and needed.  Expanders are generally used on pre-adolescents and early adolescents to restore narrow upper (maxillary) arches to their ideal widths.  Of course this increases space for teeth and helps to alleviate crowding but it also widens the floor of the nasal cavity and increases air flow.

 
 
 
In fact, according to a recent study published in the Journal of American Association of Orthodontists (Erhamza and Ozdiler, Am J Orthod Dentofacial Orthop 2018 ; 154:702-7), Rapid Palatal Expansion has been shown to significantly reduce Halitosis (measured by halimeter and organoleptic values) in patients following successful expansion at age 11 to 15.
 
 
“… according to a recent study published in the Journal of American Association of Orthodontists … Rapid Palatal Expansion has been shown to significantly reduce Halitosis”
 
Unfortunately DURING treatment, this may be a different story if the expander itself is not kept clean and the gum tissue massaged regularly around the appliance.  I use a bonded expander which protects the molars and provides a splint-like overlay for the jaw to shift on and settle to its natural position during expansion however this appliance certainly can cause temporary halitosis if oral hygiene instructions are not followed.  And certainly wearing appliances can led to difficulty cleaning the teeth and short-term bad breathe.  Regardless, even if the patient is not a great brusher during treatment, they still will benefit in the long run from expansion.
 

Several of the different sized brushes that are available to help with cleaning an expander.
 
 
If you have questions or comments concerning this or any orthodontic question, please feel free to make a complimentary new-patient appointment at either my Steiner Ranch location or my North-central Austin location on West 35th street and MoPac.
 
Central Austin Location, 1814 W. 35th
 

Steiner Ranch Location, 4302 N. Quinlan Park Rd. in Steiner Ranch
 
Dr. James R. Waters is a 1996 graduate from UTHSC Dental School in San Antonio, 1997 graduate of Advanced Dentistry from the UNMC in Nebraska and the 2001 Valedictorian graduate from the prestigious Saint Louis University Orthodontic Program receiving the J.P. Marshall award for clinical excellence in 2001.  He holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Science, Doctorate in Dental Surgery, a post-doctorate certificate in Advanced Dentistry, post-doctorate Degree in Orthodontics & Dentofacial Orthopedics and a Master of Science Degree in Orthodontics and is a Diplomate of the American Board of Orthodontics.  Dr. Waters and his wife of 22 years live in Austin, TX with their 4 children where he has a thriving, multi-faceted Specialist practice with locations in Steiner Ranch and North-Central Austin.  You can learn more about Dr. Waters at BracesAustin.com. 

 

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Alzheimer's and Periodontial Disease


Chronic Periodontitis (gum disease) may have connection to Alzheimer’s disease

  

There is an unsettling trend to view dentistry as a simple cosmetic procedure with little to no focus on the well-established link of dental health to overall systemic health of the body and mind.  Social media, commercialization of dentistry, overstressing new technologies and a general erosion of ethics may all be somewhat to blame.  I don’t recall seeing anything on my Facebook come up on the dangers of Chronic Periodontitis or its relationship to life altering diseases but I certainly see many ads about Invisalign and tooth whitening.  However now and then there is a study that really is worthy of informing the public, even if it is very preliminary.

 

So how can dental health affect your body?

 

Already researchers have linked Chronic Periodontitis (Gum disease) to Cardiovascular Disease (CVD), Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) and recently to Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA), the later by promoting the onset and even the severity of RA.  In particular, bacteria that causes gum disease actually increases the severity of RA with increased bone and cartilage destruction.
 
P. gingivalis attacking bone in Rheumatoid Arthritis


But a new study recently published in the peer-reviewed journal of the Pubic Library of Science (PLOS One*, Oct. 3, 2018) was designed to investigate if there is a correlation between bacteria normally seen in periodontal disease (Porphyromonas gingivalis or P. gingivalis for short) and that same bacteria seen sometimes in the brain tissue of Alzheimer’s patients. 
 

P. gingivalis


This bacteria, P. gingivalis, is a known pathogen in the oral cavity associated with Chronic Periodontitis (the very same bacteria linked to CVD, COPD and RA), the chronic infection of gum tissue that causes people to lose alveolar bone and eventually teeth. The article was presented by Keiko Watanabe, DDS, PhD, a Periodontology professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago who focuses her research on systemic effects of specific oral bacteria known to cause Chronic Periodontal Disease in humans.

 


 


Dr. Watanabe’s prospective study took 20 mice and injected half with regular doses of the bacteria P. gingivalis while the other half received a saline injection.  After 22 weeks, the mice were sacrificed and the brain tissues compared.  As expected, the mice that received the saline injections had normal brain tissue however the mice receiving the bacterial suspension revealed brains with signs of degeneration, inflammation and senile plaque typically characteristic of Alzheimer’s disease in humans.  Dr. Watanabe points out that it is the chronic nature of the infection that related to the changes in the brain tissue, the same chronic exposure any patient would be receiving from years of chronic periodontitis.      


Brain tissue showing degeneration with plaques


It is possible there is a direct effect from the bacteria on increasing beta amyloid production (a major constituent of senile plaque and widely believed to cause Alzheimer’s) or, as Dr. Watanabe postulates, it may be an effect of neuroinflammation caused by the chronic presence of the bacteria. 
 

 
No matter the direct causation/mechanism, the study definitely suggests there is a link and there needs to be more research on chronic bacterial infections as they relate to Alzheimer’s.  Periodontal disease is a common ailment for humans even in the developed world making this potentially a landmark study.  And any advancement in the understanding and/or treatment of Alzheimer’s disease is certainly of unmeasurable value to society as a whole.  I am always quick to point out to patients the multi-faceted nature of diseases; that there can be many factors and/or triggers for what we perceive as a single disease or ailment.  Sometimes just reducing these factors is enough to keep the disease at bay or prevent expression of certain symptoms.  This is why I feel strongly that anytime you can reduce the risks, you should make that effort (and of course good oral health is in itself its own reward).
 
 
Most people reading this will have been touched one way or another with the terrible effects of Alzheimer’s disease; and Periodontitis will affect many more of us if left untreated.  This study demonstrates how even preliminary research can be employed to possibly reduce risks of potentially severe diseases simply by strengthening our individual resolves to maintain something we should already be maintaining.

 


Health as a game of Chess?
 
 




I believe we should view our individual health like a chess game (as opposed to a single faceted approach like checkers) visualizing cause and effect many moves ahead.  The sooner we realize we are in the game, the better we will fare many moves later.  Therefore I would be amiss not to point out that dental crowding is a factor in chronic Adult Periodontitis due to difficulty cleaning, approximation of roots and plaque accumulation.  Which is another reason for this article in my Blog as a Board Certified Orthodontist; just as we chase down every known factor correlating to Alzheimer’s, it is wise to also look at the predisposing factors for known antagonists.  By straightening teeth, we reduce the risk of Periodontitis which then reduces the risk (or possibly severity) of such diseases as CVD (the leading cause of death in men AND women in the US making up some 25% of all deaths each year; not including the many diseases CVD may also lead to such as stroke and heart disease.), COPD (irreversible chronic disease that ultimately leads to death), and RA (can lead to lung disease, nerve damage and osteoporosis).  And now, another piece of the puzzle, Alzheimer’s disease for which there is currently little treatment and no cure. 

 

“I think we should view our individual health like a chess game ... so I would be amiss not to point out that dental crowding is a factor in chronic Adult Periodontitis due to difficulty cleaning, approximation of roots and plaque accumulation.”

  

*PLOS One is a peer-reviewed open access scientific journal published by the Public Library of Science since 2006. The journal covers primary research from any discipline within science and medicine. The Public Library of Science began in 2000 with an online petition initiative by Nobel Prize winner Harold Varmus, formerly director of the National Institutes of Health and at that time director of Memorial Sloan–Kettering Cancer Center; Patrick O. Brown, a biochemist at Stanford University...


If you have questions or comments concerning this or any orthodontic question, please feel free to make a complimentary new-patient appointment at either my Steiner Ranch location or my North-central Austin location on West 35th street and MoPac.

 

Dr. James R. Waters is a 1996 graduate from UTHSC Dental School in San Antonio, 1997 graduate of Advanced Dentistry from the UNMC in Nebraska and the 2001 Valedictorian graduate from the prestigious Saint Louis University Orthodontic Program receiving the J.P. Marshall award for clinical excellence in 2001.  He holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Science, Doctorate in Dental Surgery, a post-doctorate certificate in Advanced Dentistry, post-doctorate Degree in Orthodontics & Dentofacial Orthopedics and a Master of Science Degree in Orthodontics and is a Diplomate of the American Board of Orthodontics.  Dr. Waters and his wife of 22 years live in Austin, TX with their 4 children where he has a thriving, multi-faceted Specialist practice with locations in Steiner Ranch and North-Central Austin.  You can learn more about Dr. Waters at BracesAustin.com.