A Megawatt Smile Supports Periodontal Health

April 21, 2005
Some preliminary evidence sheds some "light" on why whitening procedures seem to improve patients' oral health.

SUMMARY: Megawatt Smile Supports Periodontal Health. While the smile often is the core of one's image, can whitening procedures actually go a step further to clinically improve a patient's oral health? New preliminary evidence may begin to shed some "light" on this development.

By Kristine Hodsdon, RDH

Many dental professionals arrive at anecdotal conclusions that, when patients begin a whitening program, their oral health status improves. The evidence-based question has always been: Why? Is it because they are more aware of their "teeth and smile" and therefore begin to spend more time brushing and flossing? Or is it the hydrogen peroxide that is the underlying answer to our patients' improved health? Hydrogen peroxide has documented therapeutic oral benefits. Or could it be the "power light" source that is used during many in office whitening procedures? A preliminary scientific answer may rest in a recent study reporting that a blue light can be used to suppress certain bacteria commonly associated with periodontal disease.

We are all familiar with the research that tells us about the 700-something different types of bacteria inhabiting the oral cavity. It has also been previously confirmed that some of the bacteria are "good or helpful." This group of bacteria is needed to support the body's ability to maintain an effective balance. Other types of bacteria, though, are categorized as "harmful or destructive" and can be contributing factors to gingivitis and periodontal disease.

Previous research also shows that the use of phototherapy on some oral bacteria can be useful in partially suppressing bacterial growth.(1-2) Recently, a study was conducted at The Forsyth Institute, and the primary objective was to determine if a blue light could rapidly and selectively kill four major oral dark-pigmented bacteria that cause gum disease. Below is a summary of the findings and the results were published in the April 2005 issue of the Journal of Antimicrobial Agents and Chemothe.

The study included 15 patients who were diagnosed with chronic periodontitis who have not had treatment in the past three months. Researchers gathered oral cultures from the patients and exposed the bacterial samples to varying levels of intensity and exposure time of a blue spectrum (380-520 nm) BriteSmile light source.

Results show that within minutes, the proprietary blue light from the BriteSmile light source selectively eliminated the four types of bacteria. The bacteria that the light was used on were: Porphyromonas gingivalis, prevotella intermedia, Prevotella nigtescens, and Prevotella melaninogenica.

Secondary outcomes of the study showed that even though the blue light eliminated the four harmful bacteria it did not harm the healthy bacteria. In fact, the study also found that some of the "healthy" bacteria increased, further supporting a bacterial balance. The next steps (which the researchers at Forsyth are already tackling) is the development of a handheld, light tool that might be an over-the-counter oral health or cosmetic aid for patients.

Add to all this information the recent clinical paper presented at the IADR/AADR/CADR 83rd General Session (March 9-12,2005) titled, "Safety and Efficacy of a Novel Tooth Whitening System" (S. Mason). The primary objective was for the patients to use the following system to lighten the internal and external shade of their teeth.

1. a tooth whitening pre-conditioning mouth rinse,

2. whitening paint-on gel

3. Activator Light (handheld device containing blue visible light with 350-700 nm general wavelength.)

The focus of this article is not on the whitening agent or the "system" per se, but on the handheld device. We can take into account that these are limited patient studies and that larger clinical studies are needed to confirm the use of a "power light" in the treatment of periodontal disease. Nevertheless, the potential application of the patient handheld devices is exciting. Keep reading RDH eVillage for updates on the future of dental hygiene.

1.Phototargeting Oral Black-Pigmented Bacteria Soukos et al. Antimicrob. Agents Chemother..2005; 49: 1391-1396. Photochem Photobiol Sci. 2004 May;3(5):412-8. Epub 2004 Feb 5.

2. Lethal photosensitization of oral bacteria and its potential application in the photodynamic therapy of oral infections. Wilson M.

Kristine Hodsdon, RDH, has gained her wings with 21 years in the industry, tackling everything from dental assisting, clinical hygiene and adjunct teaching to international speaking/writing, and success in sales. She is the Director of RDH eVillage, an online newsletter published by the PennWell Corporation. She currently speaks and consults on the future of dental hygiene, speaking skills, and the components of aesthetic hygiene. Kristine is a proud member of the NSA, ADHA, IFDH, IADR, and ACCD.