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Tuesday, June 8, 2010

George Washington and Jerry Seinfeld

I recently visited the Heinz History Center in Pittsburgh, PA where there was an exhibit about George Washington (it will be there through July), and I was inspired by how much modern dentistry could have helped good old George.  This is part one of a four part series about how America's first President would have benefited from modern dentistry.  We'll start with the basics, oral hygiene, regular periodontal maintenance (cleanings) and professional dental examinations.

In the early to mid 1990s The Seinfeld Show was running at it's peak and it came to light that Jerry Seinfeld was an oral hygiene fanatic.  In fact he was so fanatical about his oral hygiene that the American Dental Association essentially made him the poster child for their preventive dentistry campaign.  There was actually a poster in our office with Jerry on it, the caption read "Look Ma, I flossed!"  How does this relate to George Washington? You may not believe it, but for the mid 1700's, George was about on par with Jerry when it came to the care of his teeth.

As we mentioned in the last post, George Washington had a litany of dental problems and he had many sets of 'not so wooden' dentures. This may lead you to conclude that he was not as adamant about his oral health care as Jerry Seinfeld, but you would be mistaken.  George, like Jerry, was also a fanatic, having found from a young age that he had difficulty with his teeth. He had his first tooth removed at age 22.  He worked especially hard to maintain his oral hygiene, almost always owning a toothbrush (not the norm for the day).  His brush would have had boars hair bristles and would have been nearly as effective as those we use today according to Dr. Scott Swank curator of the National Dental Museum in Baltimore.  George also had an ongoing relationship with several dentists, he was always seeking out who was "the best." This relationship was meant to handle any problems that arose with his teeth and to manufacture high quality, comfortable dental prosthetics (dentures and partials). 

This is Napoleon's toothbrush made with horse hair bristles, it is very similar to George Washington's boars hair toothbrush.  George's toothbrush is on display the Heinz History Center in Pittsburgh, PA through July.

In the 1700's a regular periodontal maintenance program and professional dental exam were not part of a dentist's repertoire.  For the mid 1700's in America though, George Washington was the Jerry Seinfeld of oral hygiene.  Unfortunately for George, he didn't have any of the advantages that we have today in preventive dentistry.  In addition, according to Dr. Scott Swank curator at the Smithsonian affiliate National Dental Museum in Baltimore, George Washington took a popular medicine called calomel (mercurous chloride) which would have been the major culprit in the destruction of his teeth through the years.  This medicine, was a sort of cure-all for the time.  It was given for many reasons sometimes as a laxative and sometimes as a soother for teething babies.  Research has since shown what a catastrophic effect calomel had on people's teeth.

If George had access to a Sonicare or Oral B electric toothbrush, dental floss, Fluoride toothpaste, and even Listerine or Act mouth washes, his dental history would have been dramatically different. Regular periodontal maintenance, dental x-rays, and oral cancer screenings would have also provided tremendous benefit. These simple measures, which you most likely take for granted, would have made it possible for George Washington to restore (fix) his cavities when they were smaller, stabilize and maintain his periodontal status, and prevent the slow onslaught of destruction that oral disease wrought on him. So we can all thank goodness that we're in this fascinating modern era of dentistry with everything from x-rays to dental implants to local anesthetic (novocaine) helping us fight this ongoing battle with oral disease. Chips Dental Associates takes advantage of many of the latest advances in modern dentistry that George as well as Jerry would appreciate.

Next week we're going to be touching on what might have been one of George Washington's favorite subjects (had it existed then) the Root Canal Therapy.

Brought to you as a community service by Chips Dental Associates, LLC.

If it's been a while since your last dental visit or you just want to get together to discuss our favorite historical character, visit

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

George Washington's (not so) Wooden Teeth

This past weekend I had the opportunity to visit the Heinz History Center in Pittsburgh, PA. They had a wonderful exhibit about America's first commander-in-chief, George Washington. What an interesting character he was, from the tender age of 19 he was an active part of American history and our local Pittsburgh history. As a dentist, I was most captivated by what seemed to be the centerpiece (forgive my skewed point of view) of the exhibit, the litany of his teeth. I was so inspired by how modern dentistry could have helped old George so dramatically in his lifetime that I'll be changing the format of my blog for the next few weeks to talk about it. Part One will be finished shortly, so bookmark my site! In regards to the title here, it is a myth that George Washington had wooden teeth. His teeth were made of many substances throughout his lifetime, but wood was never used for the teeth in George Washington's dentures.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Tips for Caregivers on Oral Health

Q: I'm caring for an elderly, infirm parent. Any tips for me on their dental care?
A: Here is how to brush someone else's teeth: Make sure the lighting is good in the room you choose, it does not need to be a bathroom. Wherever your parent feels comfortable is the right place. Wash your hands and put on sanitary, disposable gloves. Stand or sit so that you have a good view of all of the teeth. Put only a small amount of toothpaste on the brush. Brush all surfaces of each tooth and angle the brush. Brush gently at the gum line (this is an area that is particularly susceptible to decay in this type of patient) front and back. Gently brush the tongue after you've done the teeth. Help them to rinse with plain water.
Consider, with your parent's consent, of course, whether a power toothbrush might make the work easier and more efficient. Arrange for a professional checkup at least twice a year, Chips Dental Associates is happy to make arrangements for these patients in either of our offices. You can also speak with us about making special arrangements for having a home-bound relative seen.
As a Chips Dental Associates patient, you have access to our preventive program for adult patients. This involves regular applications of a highly concentrated topical fluoride varnish that has been shown to reduce the rate of decay. Many times cavities found in this aging population can be managed with a fluoride releasing material that will also reduce the rate of decay. The doctors at Chips Dental Associates have special training in the use of these and other modalities of treatment specifically targeted at this segment of the population.
Brought to you as a community service by Chips Dental Associates, LLC.
For more information or questions visit

Tuesday, May 18, 2010


Q: What is a periodontist?

A: A periodontist is a dentist who specializes in the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of gum disease.  The word itself comes from the Greek roots, "peri," meaning around, and "odont," the word for tooth.  Periodontistry is one of several areas of dental specialty that require two to three years of training beyond the education required for a General Dentist.  Since some 75 percent of tooth loss is due to gum disease and the deterioration of the tooth's support system, the periodontist is a critical part of our oral health care system.

If periodontal disease is caught early, there are many non-surgical ways to treat it.  The periodontist, general dentist, or hygienist may be able to scrape plaque from tooth roots to reduce the amount of bacteria in these areas, which when combined with regular care can help to keep your periodontal disease stable.  If the disease is more advanced, surgical techniques, including bone grafting, may be used to replace lost bone.  It is important for your periodontal status to be stable to be a candidate for dental implants. 

In the best of worlds, you'd like to not need the services of a periodontist, the best way to avoid that is to visit Chips Dental Associates regularly and observe a sound regimen of home care by brushing and flossing regularly.

Brought to you as a community service by Chips Dental Associates, LLC.

For more information or questions, please visit

Monday, May 10, 2010

What is the Pulp of the tooth?

Q: What is the pulp of the tooth?

A: Inside every tooth, protected by the casing of enamel, is a mass of tissue that holds the nerves and blood vessels that are essential to the health of the tooth.  People generally refer to the pulp as the 'nerve' of the tooth because it's extremely sensitive and painful when exposed.  Through tiny openings in the tips of the roots of the teeth, the vessels and nerves in the tooth connect with the arteries, veins, and nerves of the jaw, and on to the circulatory and nervous system of the body.  The pulp brings nutrients that help with the ongoing formation of dentin, the highly calcified material that accounts for about 75% of the bulk of a tooth.

If the pulp becomes infected and dies, the dentin will not get the nutrition it needs.  It will gradually dry up and the tooth will become brittle.  If the dead pulp is not removed through a root canal therapy procedure, the tooth may turn yellow, gray, or black.  Once a root canal therapy procedure is complete, since the tooth is without a nervous system or blood supply, it is a necessity to protect your tooth with a crown or 'cap' that helps to strengthen this tooth.  The crown, once placed, reduces the risk of tooth fracture after a root canal therapy significantly.  Without having the crown placed, your tooth would be at very high risk of fracture and may possibly need to be removed if it fractures.  One of the goals of a good oral hygiene program is to prevent decay of the enamel and dentin that protect the pulp. 

Brought to you as a community service by Chips Dental Associates, LLC.

For more information or questions, please visit

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Importance of Mouth Guards

Q: Why are mouth guards important for athletes?

A: For athletes engaged in certain high-contact sports like hockey and football, the benefits of wearing a mouth guard are obvious. Dental injuries can be permanent and, in some cases, though, they are costly.

The American Dental Association advocates the wearing of mouth guards as the most effective defense against sports-related dental injuries. They cushion blows that might otherwise result in chipped or broken teeth and severe lacerations to the lip or tongue. Additionally, the ADA notes that athletes at all levels, organized or unorganized, recreational or competitive, are at risk for dental injury. Even individual recreational activities like skating and gymnastics can expose a person to a mouth injury.

Ideally an athlete should be wearing a mouth guard during any physical activity, from riding bikes to playing football. The standard "boil-and-bite" type mouth guard offers the minimum protection required to help prevent dental and other injuries, but are not the most effective and can be uncomfortable to wear. The most comprehensive protection and comfortable fit is achieved by a custom made mouth guard. These are made from an impression or mold of your teeth taken at Chips Dental Associates. The dental laboratory technician can then manufacture a mouth guard just for your teeth. It will stay in on it's own and does not obstruct breathing. Although these are more costly than those available in the sporting goods store, they more than make up for the added costs with added protection. As mentioned before, if it prevents one dental injury, it has paid for itself.

Mouth guards also play a role in minimizing the occurrence or severity of concussion. Some experts maintain the shock absorption quality of a mouth guard can take the sting off some blows that cause concussion.

Chips Dental Associates, LLC is committed to helping our community protect their teeth and reduce the risk of concussions. We have partnered with local schools to provide custom mouth guards for student athletes at a reduced fee. If you are a student or parent from a local school, please contact our office for more information.

Brought to you as a community service by Chips Dental Associates, LLC.

For more information or questions, visit

Monday, April 26, 2010

Salivary Glands

Q: Where does saliva come from?

A: Saliva, a mixture of water, mucous and other substances, is secreted into your mouth through your salivary glands. You have three pairs of major salivary glands - the parotids, which are the largest and are in your cheeks; the sublingual, which are under your tongue, and the submandibular, which are under your jaw. Additionally, numerous minor glands inside your lips and cheeks also contribute to what is normally a steady, small flow of saliva. The presence of - and sometimes just the anticipation of - food, can stimulate the glands to produce a heavy amount, hence the descriptive phrase "mouth-watering."

Saliva has many functions. The most important is to moisten the food we eat so that we can shape it into a ball, called a bolus, for swallowing. Saliva also helps us taste food. Our taste buds react only to moist food. Saliva also is important in helping to fight tooth decay. It helps your tongue wash away food particles and because saliva is slightly alkaline, it neutralizes some of the acids produced in your mouth by bacteria.

Patients who have had cancer in the head and neck region and have received radiation therapy are at risk for developing xerostomia or chronic dry-mouth. This happens because the function of their salivary glands has been reduced due to this treatment. Patients who are on a variety of medications can also develop this problem as a side effect or from the interaction of multiple medications. When this happens, patients are at risk for developing a higher rate of decay and may benefit from a fluoride preventive program. Chips Dental Associates has an excellent program to help these patients. Additionally there are many saliva replacement products available. If you are suffering from chronic dry-mouth or think you are, ask your hygienist or one of the doctors the next time you visit Chips Dental Associates for more information and some samples.

Brought to you as a community service by Chips Dental Associates, LLC.

For more information or questions, please visit