Out of this World Dental Care

"Out of this World" Dental Care

Recently I took my family to visit the Adler Planetarium in Chicago.  While there, we enjoyed participating in their interactive skydome presentation, "Mission to Mars".  During this presentation the audience pushes their keypads to decide where to best establish the colony, what kind of dwelling to develop, etc.  While this mission was just a fantasy, NASA has scheduled the first real manned flight to Mars in the year 2020.

This mission represents the longest manned flight, potentially up to three years that has ever been attempted.  This longer time frame brings about a variety of concerns that have not had to be addressed on less lengthier missions.  To this end NASA has contracted with the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) to help strategize protocols necessary to both prevent and treat adverse medical and dental conditions during long-term space travel.

Scientists already know that spending prolonged amounts of time in zero gravity affects bone density and muscle mass as well as the immune system.  What they don't know is what effects long-term space travel will have on oral health and oral pathogens.  They must also develop a plan for dealing with dental trauma in micro-gravity as well as how to render restorative treatment when most of today's dental instruments and materials are not compatible with zero gravity.

To motivate your little future astronauts, you can assure them that those chosen to participate in a flight to Mars will have to posses excellent oral health, demonstrate long-term attention to oral hygiene habits and be committed to maintaining these habits diligently.               

Unfortunately, there have been times when both naval and airforce missions have had to be aborted solely because of a dental problem.  This cannot happen on a mission with the magnitude of the Mars Flight.  Yet, even if the astronauts leave Earth with outstanding dental health, they could injure a tooth or a restoration could fail.  We must therefore, find ways to effectively prevent and treat medical or dental conditions during long-term space flight.  The NAS researchers, along with their dental and medical doctors, will continue to examine these issues and hope to issue a report by next spring.

Dr. Stephen Petras

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