Frequently Asked Dental Questions
We’ve compiled a list below of the most common dental related questions we receive. If you have a concern not addressed here please let us know. We are always looking to improve our Q&A and make it more helpful.
Q: What is plaque and why is it bad?
Plaque is a clear sticky film of bacteria that constantly forms on teeth. As plaque collects it forms a hard layer of tartar (or calculus) particularly in hard to reach areas between teeth and near the gum line.
Bacteria found in plaque create toxic chemicals that irritate the gums. Eventually these bacteria cause the underlying bone around the teeth to be destroyed, a condition known as gum disease. Recent research suggests that gum disease is linked to other health problems including heart disease, stroke, pneumonia and some pregnancy complications.
Removal of plaque with brushing and flossing on a twice daily basis and removal of tartar by your dentist and dental hygienist is the first step in defeating gum disease. By the time gum disease begins to hurt, it may be too late. Seeing a dentist regularly can help prevent this and many other problems.
Q: Are electric toothbrushes better than manual brushes?
If a manual toothbrush is used for the appropriate amount of time, and done with proper technique, it can perform just as well as a powered toothbrush. But many people don’t brush for the recommended two to three minutes. Children are also good candidates for powered brushes as their brushing habits tend to be less than optimal.
While everyone certainly does not need an electric toothbrush, in many instances they can be beneficial. Ask your dentist if you have any questions about which brush is best for you.
Q: What causes bad breath?
While bad breath (or “halitosis”) can be linked to numerous systemic diseases, the majority of bad breath originates in the mouth. A dry mouth or a low salivary flow can also influence bad odor.
There are two main goals in the management of bad breath. First, controlling the bacteria that produce the sulfur compounds and second, to neutralize the sulfur compounds that are produced.
Q: It’s been a long time since I’ve visited the dentist. What do I need to do?
You’re not alone! Whether it’s been 6 months or 6 years, it’s never too late to get back into the routine.
At our office, we can arrange for you to have a thorough and educational exam appointment. We have been taking care of people just like you for over 50 years – take advantage of our experience! We’re here to help!
Q: Why should I have my teeth cleaned twice a year?
In a perfect world everyone would brush and floss twice a day. Plaque builds up over time and this sticky bacterial film can solidify and turn into calculus or tartar. This cement-like substance is removed by the hygienist at your regular cleaning visits. A six-month interval not only serves to keep your mouth healthy and clean, it allows potential problems to be found and diagnosed earlier.
In some instances a six-month schedule in not enough. Based on your dental history, rate of calculus buildup, and pattern of decay a 3 or 4 month interval may be needed. Your dentist can work with you to determine what will be best for you.
For Moms and Dads
Q: Now that I’m pregnant, my gums are more sensitive and bleed more easily. Why? What happens if I have a dental problem when I am pregnant?
Changing hormone levels during pregnancy can cause normal, healthy gums to become red, irritated and swollen. This irritation, known as “Pregnancy Gingivitis” is the body’s exaggerated response to plaque and calculus.
It is very important during this time to stay current with your regular dental cleanings and exams to ensure that dental infections don’t get missed and lead to greater problems down the road. Although dentists will typically postpone major treatment until after the baby is born, emergencies do come up and need to be addressed. Since many of your baby’s organs are being formed in the first trimester, this work is ideally taken care of during the second trimester to minimize any potential risk.
Q: When will my child get his first tooth?
The period when early hard teeth are growing is a major event in the life of an infant, and it can be difficult. The eruption of teeth causes inflammation, which leads to congestion, drooling, and discomfort.
While the average time for the appearance of the first teeth is between five and seven months of age, there is a wide range before and after this that can still be considered “normal.” The teeth might come in as early as one month of age, or they may erupt when the child is one-and-a-half years old. Generally the lower front teeth come in first, and girls’ teeth typically erupt earlier than boys.
Q: My child’s baby teeth have cavities. Why should they be filled if they’re just going to fall out in a few years?
If baby teeth become diseased or decayed it can lead to pain and infection. It can also be difficult for children to eat a well-balanced meal with a mouth full of cavities. Untreated cavities also increase the amount of decay causing bacteria in the mouth. As permanent teeth erupt, they are at increased risk for developing cavities because of the higher bacteria count.
Baby teeth also hold space in the mouth for the erupting permanent teeth. If the baby teeth become decayed or are taken out too early, the permanent teeth often become crowded and will likely need braces to straighten in the future.
Q: What are sealants and why are they done?
The pits and grooves of the teeth are prime areas for opportunistic decay. Even regular brushing sometimes misses some of these intricate structures on the chewing surfaces of your teeth.
Sealants are thin coatings applied to the biting surfaces that help prevent bacteria and other debris from getting into the deep crevices on the teeth.
Young children are great candidates for preventative measures like sealants because in many cases, decay has not set in. Children’s teeth tend to benefit more from sealants because these pits and groves tend to be deeper and less calcified then they are in adults.
Fillings, X-Rays, and Other Procedures.
Q: My dentist says I have a cavity and that I need a filling. But why doesn’t my tooth hurt?
Most dental problems don’t have any symptoms until they reach more advanced stages, so don’t wait for things to hurt! It is best to get a thorough dental exam, and diagnose and treat problems early. Waiting often makes problems more difficult and more expensive to fix.
Q: What is a root canal?
Root canal therapy is intended to be a tooth saving procedure that removes the pulp, or living tissue from inside a tooth. Each tooth typically has from 1 to 3 roots and each root has 1 or 2 tunnels or canals that stretch the length of the root. In a healthy tooth, these canals are filled with tissue (consisting of the nerves and blood vessels) that keeps the tooth alive and provide sensations like hot and cold. Sometimes the tissue can become damaged or diseased due to decay, fracture or trauma. This in turn can cause a toothache or there may be no pain at all.
During root canal treatment a hole is created in the top of the tooth to locate the canals. The dentist cleans and disinfects these canals and seals them with a special filler material. Root canal therapy is highly successful and with todays technology can be painless.
Q: What is in amalgam (silver) fillings, and are they safe?
Dental amalgam is a filling material used by dentists to restore the proper size and shape of decayed or damaged teeth. It is an alloy, meaning a blend of different metals, that includes silver, tin, copper, and liquid mercury. It is the most commonly used filling material in the world and has been used extensively since the early 1800’s.
Amalgam is the most thoroughly researched and tested of all filling materials. Despite controversy over the mercury content, no health disorder or illness has ever been found to be linked to it. The FDA, CDC, and World Health Organization all view dental amalgam as a safe dental material.
If you are unsure whether amalgam is right for you, discuss the advantages and disadvantages of each filling material with your dentist.
Q: How much radiation do I get from a dental x-ray and how does it compare to other medical procedures?
The radiation you would receive from a traditional film dental x-ray is very low. Today, with non-film digital x-rays available, the radiation is reduced by an additional 90%.
Comparatively, a traditional chest CT-scan exposes a patient to 2,800 times the radiation as a digital dental x-ray, and a mammogram gives off around 60 times as much radiation. Surprisingly, you can get the same amount of radiation as one of our dental x-rays from eating about 50 bananas.
What if a tooth gets knocked out in an accident?
Time is your enemy when an accident or any trauma dislodges a tooth. First locate the tooth, or teeth, and determine if the tooth broke or if the entire tooth and root came out in one piece. Gather together the pieces you’ve found, and with warm water gently rinse off obvious dirt or debris. Avoid touching the root as much as possible. Place and transport the tooth in milk or in some of the person’s own saliva.
Rush the injured person and tooth to the dental office. Ideally the tooth will be re-implanted. The tooth may also be splinted with a wire to the adjacent teeth for a period of time.
This is a true dental emergency. If it is after regular business hours you should still call your dentist. The more time that goes by the less likely that the re-implantation will be successful. If you cannot contact a dentist your nearest Urgent Care or Emergency Room may be able to help.
Q: What should I do if I have a dental emergency and can’t get a hold of a dentist?
Always try to reach your own dentist. If you’re unable to get ahold of him or her, check the internet or yellow pages for a dentist or urgent care nearby.
Q: What are my options for replacing a missing tooth?
When a tooth is lost, a whole series of events can begin to occur. Chewing on the affected side becomes more difficult and over time the remaining teeth can actually tilt and erupt into the open space.
Depending on the location of the missing tooth, we would most likely recommend either a dental implant, a bridge, or a partial denture.
All of these options have their benefits and drawbacks. If you would like more information your dentist can usually schedule a consultation to go over the specifics of your case.
If you can’t reach any dentist, here are some helpful tips…
Protocol for nursing a toothache:
Rinse your mouth with warm salt water. Gently brush and floss the area to remove any trapped food or debris. If you can take over the counter pain medications (such as Ibuprofen) they may help in soothing the pain. Topical gels (such as Orajel) can sometimes help, but usually only apply a little bit and for a minimal amount of time. Make arrangements to see your dentist even if the pain goes away. Without proper care your condition could return or even worsen.
*to make salt water rinse: mix (till fully dissolved) 1 teaspoon table salt with 1 cup warm water*
When a permanent (or temporary) crown comes off:
Keep the area clean by rinsing with a warm salt water rinse. Gently brush the area if it is not too sensitive. Avoid leaving the crown out for more than a few days as teeth can shift, making it difficult or impossible to re-cement it at a later date. If the tooth is in pain, denture cream or toothpaste can be placed inside the crown to gently fit back into place.
Broken Filling or Broken Tooth:
Most pharmacies carry temporary filling materials that can be placed over the sensitive area until you see your dentist. Sugar-free chewing gum can also be used to cover the area as a last resort.
Q: What can I do if I have a dry mouth?
The basic problem in dry mouth, or xerostomia, is a lack of saliva. This can be caused by diseases of the salivary gland, medications that decrease salivary flow as a side effect or as a natural result of aging. This decrease in saliva can lead to a number of severe dental problems such as gum disease, tooth decay and mouth infections.
The best way to combat this problem is to use sugar free candy or gum and to drink plenty of water. Do not use sugared candy or soda, as they can lead to rapid dental decay in patients with dry mouths. Several over the counter products are also available that can help with some dry mouth symptoms. If you’re concerned that you may have xerostomia, contact your dentist or physician to determine its cause and see what might work best in your situation.
Q: I’ve recently been diagnosed with diabetes. Are there any dental problems that are associated with this disease?
Infections and other problems such as receding gums and periodontal disease are common afflictions among diabetics. Diabetes impairs the body’s ability to fight off infections, decreases blood flow and circulation to gum tissue, and also in many cases elevates sugar levels within the oral cavity. These factors tend to promote gum disease and tooth decay.
Good oral hygiene, proper brushing, regular flossing, and healthy glucose levels will go a long way in preventing diabetic-related dental problems.
Q: Why don’t my dentures seem to fit anymore?
If you’ve had your dentures for more than 3-5 years it’s possible that they actually don’t fit anymore.
You are probably aware that the bone of the mouth holds and supports the teeth. But the teeth of our mouth also support the bone. When the teeth are removed the bone looses the support once provided by the teeth and enters into a lifetime of constant shape change and atrophy (shrinkage). As a result, dentures that were made to fit your mouth several years ago don’t fit now. People often try to compensate for this by using more denture adhesive until the desired fit is achieved. Unfortunately, this can cause faster loss of bone and eventually an even worse fit.
We have some options available to treat these problems. In these cases, we may recommend we either reline your existing dentures for a better fit or make a new set of dentures.
BBC NEWS Magazine 13 October 2011 “Go Figure: What Bananas Tell Us About Radiation” By Michael Blastland.
Every Day Health: “The Truth About Everyday Radiation.” By Sharon Tanenbaum, Medically reviewed by Ed Zimney, MD. 3/18/2011.