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The scourge of our species

Once upon a time, long ago in a faraway place, there lived a young boy who would be king. He wanted for nothing and life was good except for one problem. Ramses II suffered terribly from toothaches.

Three thousand years later, 21st-century CAT scans of his mummy reveal that he died in his 20s with multiple, septic, intrabony abscesses, and quite possibly from them, too. Microbes have been around a long time and are very good at what they do. They can be formidable and deadly enemies or life-saving allies, as entertained by H. G. Wells over 100 years ago in War of The Worlds. Enabling us to peer into the past without changing or destroying the present, computer tomography is our modern-day time machine …well, sort of.

Both of these individuals were in their 30s when they died. In the left X-ray is evidence of periodontal disease and severe occlusal wear because a significant ingredient in his diet was sand. Herbivores use other mechanisms to compensate for attrition. We’re not so lucky. The right image reveals four infections within the bone; and that’s just in one quadrant. Radiographs of other mummies reveal evidence of primitive and unsuccessful attempts at root canal treatments. They were desperate to try anything.

Dental disease has been the scourge of our species since before recorded history. Skulls of Neanderthal and Cro-Magnon’s dentition don’t show caries … probably because that was long before refined carbohydrates and donuts. They do, however, exhibit severe wear from masticating abrasive foods.

Tooth decay and periodontal disease are in the top two positions on the hit list of afflictions that torment our species. They are not confined by ethnic, religious, gender, racial, or socioeconomic boundaries. It used to be that they were merely painful inconveniences with occasionally known serious consequences. “You’re born without teeth, die without ’em, and they’re just a pain in the neck in between. Not so. One’s teeth should, would and could last a lifetime.

Recent evidence-based analyses reveals a pathogenic oral-systemic link between chronic inflammatory disease and systemic diseases. The American Heart Association, the American Medical Association, the American Diabetes Association and other well-respected organizations have proven a causal/effect relationship between chronic inflammation and heart disease, diabetes, stroke, arthritis, birth defects, nephritis and pancreatic cancer. I’m sure others will follow. We now know why good oral health is so important. In other words, one cannot possibly be in good general health without healthy teeth and gums.

Adequate nutrition is essential for good health, so being able to chew proper foods is very important for our well-being. Fortunately, that revelation has coincided with an extraordinary advance in dental technology. For the first time in the course of human history, we are able to replace lost and missing teeth one at a time. It’s not necessary to wrestle with partial dentures or sacrifice adjacent healthy teeth as bridge abutments. Edentulous patients no longer have to cope with the annoyance, inconvenience, embarrassment and discomfort of removable dentures. They now have the option of fixed prosthetic replacements. While it’s still a drag getting sick, there’s been no better time to replace worn out or lost body parts.

It’s mostly the young and old who have to dodge the caries bullet, while the middle-aged and elderly have to battle root caries and periodontal disease. The bad news for all of us that it’s a lifetime struggle. The good news: Both can be easily and inexpensively prevented with a minimum of time, effort and cost.

By the time you’ve read this, it will have been past your morning routine, but in time for this evening’s. Will you remember?

 

Zonies is a dentist and he lives in Fayston.


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