Top Dentists 2011: Watch Your Mouth
That’s what dental professionals are trained to do. These specialists do it especially well.
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On a recent visit to Mount Vernon, Dr. G. William Keller of Wilmington read a few pages from the diary of George Washington. Our first president was famous for not only his military genius and statesmanship, but also wearing dentures.
“Every night, he made a note about his mouth,” Keller says. “‘My mouth was extremely sore today.’ He was constantly concerned with it. Just think—if he’d had implants, and he never had to worry about his teeth, how much greater could he have been?”
Since 1988 Keller has specialized in periodontics, the area of dentistry most concerned with the health of the gums and underlying bone. Poor oral hygiene, genetics, and health issues such as heart disease, liver disease, respiratory problems and diabetes can all lead to deterioration of gum tissue, then the bone that holds teeth in place at the roots. Untreated, the result can be lost teeth.
Periodontal disease, caused by the accumulation of dangerous bacteria in the mouth, can also become the cause of systemic health problems.
“It’s a two-way street, a communication throughout the entire body,” Keller says. “You can’t just treat plaque and tartar. You have to treat the whole person. It’s much more important for a patient’s health.”
As a teen, Keller looked up to his dentist. With a natural aptitude for math and science, he was accepted into a dental program right out of high school. He earned a bachelor’s in microbiology and a degree in dentistry from the Ohio State University College of Dentistry. During his general residency at the Medical College of Ohio, a periodontist suggested he specialize. Keller moved to Delaware, then earned his certification in periodontics from the University of Pennsylvania School of Dental Medicine. He has practiced here ever since.
Much of his practice is focused on implantology—the embedding of special screws into the jaw bone and placement of a prosthetic tooth on top. Good implants have virtually replaced the need for bridges (prosthetic teeth that are cemented to their healthy neighbors) and removable appliances—the modern versions of George Washington’s dentures.
In advanced cases, Keller can rebuild lost bone through grafting. When periodontic disease is detected early enough, he can use antibiotic medicines or materials to eradicate the problem before it affects the bone, thus avoiding surgery. “We do everything we can to save a tooth,” Keller says.
Keller stays abreast of the latest advancements in materials and technique by reading the top journals on periodontics, taking regular continuing education courses and visiting periodontists around the county to observe their practices. That translates into things like new technology for his office, such as a CAT scan machine that provides him with 3D images of patients’ mouths—a great advance over standard X-rays.
“We find so much more to discuss with the patient,” Keller says. “We can plan treatment better.”
Beware: Up to 25 percent of us have a gene that predisposes us to periodontal disease. Yet the disease still needs bacteria to work its evil, so regular, effective brushing and flossing is the best prevention. “If you floss your teeth, you can live an extra 10 years,” Keller says.
It also helps to eat right and stay physically fit. If you smoke, quit. And avoid stress. “When you’re stressed, oral hygiene is the first thing to go,” Keller says. “If you don’t take care of yourself, your immune system will change. The healthiest people we see are in good shape.”
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