Ask A Dentist: Brushing Up On Tooth Science

33:45 minutes

a full panorama x-ray of a person's mouth which reveals teeth, roots, and fillings
SciFri producer Christie Taylor’s teeth. Used with Taylor’s permission.

Most of us spend our time at the dentist holding our mouths open, saying “ahhh,” and occasionally sticking out our tongues. But if you could ask a dentist anything, what would you want to know?

Ira asks University of Utah researcher Rena D’Souza and UPenn’s Mark Wolff about cavity formation, the oral microbiome, gum disease, and the future of stem cells in teeth restoration. Plus, NYU researcher Rodrigo Lacruz explains new research on how excessive fluoride can disrupt tooth cell functions and why you should still keep drinking that fluoridated tap water.

You Asked A Dentist

We collected some of your questions about dentistry and the science of your pearly whites on the SciFri VoxPop app. Here’s what you wanted to know!


Laura M. from California, Maryland: So I switched dentist just last year and I really miss my old dentist who once told me that using warm water with a high salt content in it as a mouthwash was better than using any over-the-counter mouthwash. And when I mentioned this to my new dentist, they said that I need to stick to regular mouthwash. How true is this? Is it better to use salt water?

J. William from Willoughby Hills, Ohio: Now that we have stem cell technology, is there a way to use stem cells to regrow teeth or teeth enamel?

Randy from Lighthouse Point, Florida: Why are some mammals able to continuously grow teeth, such as rodents, and others like humans cannot?

Bonnie from Milwaukee, Wisconsin: I‘m wondering if mouthwash harms the good bacteria in my mouth, or is it specifically formulated to only go after the bad bacteria like my hygienist says?

Further Reading

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Segment Guests

Mark S. Wolff

Mark Wolff is Dean and Professor in the School of Dental Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Rena D’Souza

Rena D’Souza is Past President of the International Association of Dental Research and a Professor of Dentistry at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City, Utah.

Rodrigo Lacruz

Rodrigo Lacruz is an Associate Professor of Basic Science and Craniofacial Biology in the NYU College of Dentistry in New York, New York.

Meet the Producers and Host

About Christie Taylor

Christie Taylor was a producer for Science Friday. Her days involved diligent research, too many phone calls for an introvert, and asking scientists if they have any audio of that narwhal heartbeat.

About Lauren J. Young

Lauren J. Young was Science Friday’s digital producer. When she’s not shelving books as a library assistant, she’s adding to her impressive Pez dispenser collection.

About Ira Flatow

Ira Flatow is the host and executive producer of Science FridayHis green thumb has revived many an office plant at death’s door.

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