In our office, sterilization is a very big deal – so big, we devote a whole page of this site to how we protect against harmful bacteria, viruses, and other microbes in our day-to-day work. It’s a basic part of supporting your overall health and well-being.
The importance of this was underscored last week by news out of Orange County, California, where at least 8 children developed severe bacterial infections after root canal treatment at a local clinic. Seven were hospitalized. About 500 more may have been exposed.
The bacterium involved was mycobacterium abscessus, a common water contaminant that’s distantly related to tuberculosis and leprosy. Soft tissues – such as those within a tooth, as well as the delicate gingival tissues (gums) – are particularly vulnerable. The infection is slow to develop, with symptoms including swelling and tenderness, boils or pus-filled sores, fever, chills, muscle aches, and a general feeling of illness. The conventional treatment is a long course of antibiotics, as well as drainage of the infected area.
How did it get into that children’s dental clinic? According KABC Eyewitness News,
Health officials believe it may have been linked to water used during the procedures.
Indeed, water lines in a dental office are a high risk site for all kinds of contamination. It’s one of the reasons why we use only ozonated water in our treatment rooms. (The other, of course, is that it supports our patients’ healing.) A powerful antimicrobial, ozone helps keep our water lines consistently clear and disinfected. We also flush all air, water, and hand piece lines with ozonated water between patients, as well.
We can only hope that the situation in California is some sort of a fluke. After all, as with anything, even the best precautions can sometimes fail. Bad things do happen, despite best practices and best intentions. And if the clinic was falling short in their sterilization practices, we hope recent events will be motivation enough for them to step up their game.
But the news item raises another important question: Why are so many kids needing root canals to begin with? (In children, the actual procedure is generally pulpectomy or pulpotomy.) If the figures in the news account are correct, that’s more than 100 a month being performed in just a single clinic!
Like root canal therapy in adults, these procedures are done when decay has grown so deep, the inner layer of the tooth, the pulp, gets infected, jeopardizing the health of the tooth as a whole. And as we’ve noted before, we’ve got a real caries crisis in this country. It’s the most common chronic disease affecting our youth, with 42% of kids age 2 to 11 having caries in their primary teeth. Nearly one quarter of all kids in that age group have untreated caries.
Of course, the solutions posed by the mainstream – fluoride and sealants – are no solution. They do nothing to address the cause – number one of which is consumption of added sugars and refined carbohydrates. These damage oral health in a number of ways:
- They’re the preferred food of the oral pathogens, whose metabolic waste creates acids that generate decay.
- They increase the body’s overall acid level and fuel inflammation.
- They tend to displace nutrient dense foods that would normally provide the vitamins and minerals needed to sustain natural remineralization – especially magnesium, phosphorous, calcium, and vitamins D and K.
When decay goes so deep as to threaten the pulp, dental treatment of some kind is inevitable. But before then, it is possible to stop the progression of decay and generate new dentin to protect the pulp – a process Dr. Weston Price likened to “petrification.” And as Price also showed, it starts with diet – cutting the refined sugars and carbs, increasing intake of healthy fats and whole foods.
Good hygiene, of course, is the other important support. (Yes, traditional cultures didn’t use toothbrushes or toothpaste or floss as we do. Still, people did clean their teeth in various ways before these modern inventions.)
All the fluoride and sealant material in the world cannot replace these basics.