When you hear the term “ozone,” you might think of the layer up in our atmosphere that protects us from the sun’s ultraviolet rays – the one we managed to put a hole in some decades ago. Or maybe you think of pollution, since low level ozone is the main component of smog.
Properly harnessed, it’s also a powerful and safe disinfectant – 3000 times more effective than chlorine. For decades, it’s been used for things like purifying water, cleaning fabrics, and killing pathogenic (disease-causing) bacteria on food.
Think of it as supercharged oxygen: Each molecule of ozone consists of three oxygen atoms. It’s not the most stable molecule in the world, but its instability is what makes so powerful. That “extra” molecule gloms on to microbes and other toxins, thereby neutralizing them. This process is called oxidation.
Not long after ozone was first identified in 1840, it was put to medical use, treating all manner of infections. To this day, medical ozone is widely used – mostly in Europe, but also here in North America – to treat a wide variety of conditions, including circulatory disorders and viral diseases. In fact, in the midst of the West African ebola crisis, a medical mission took ozone therapy to the region.
Ozone is also used in dentistry, both to prevent and treat problems such as periodontal (gum) disease, tooth decay and other forms of oral infection.
While ozonated oils may be used on the gums and other soft tissues, we mostly use it in the form of gas, which can easily make its way through even the hard tissues of enamel and the softer dentin it protects. Research has shown that ozone can effectively stop the decay process in its early stages, at least on the biting surfaces of the teeth. In such cases, drilling and filling may not even be needed. Even when decay has progressed, thoroughly disinfecting the tooth with ozone before placing the restoration can help guard against the decay coming back later, necessitating retreatment of the tooth.
Ozone gas – along with ozonated water – is also incredibly effective in treating gum disease, since the bacteria involved proliferate below the gumline. By flushing this area with ozone gas and water, we can not only disinfect the pockets where they thrive but also increase circulation and decrease inflammation. Additionally, the ozone helps the gums to heal, as well as spurs remineralization of the jawbone. That’s a major bonus, since bone loss is typical in advanced gum disease – the main reason why rampant perio problems lead to tooth loss. Eventually, there’s not enough bone to keep the teeth stable.
Many dental offices will use ozonated water in all of their treatment rooms, where it is used in all procedures, from simple cleanings to major surgeries. For not only can it help with general disinfection and enhancement of the oxygen supply – the bacteria that cause decay and gum disease hate oxygen – but it also helps keep the waterlines themselves clean, reducing opportunities for cross contamination.
Ozone can also be helpful in reducing pain and discomfort after surgeries, as well as tooth sensitivity in general.
And this is hardly the end of ozone’s uses in dentistry. Indeed, exciting research continues to suggest new uses, such as the treatment of TMJ disorders and much more.
Ozone is truly a revolutionizing therapy, allowing us – and dentists around the world – to provide an even higher level of care.