Here you will find and extensive list of frequently asked questions that patients have about oral health and dentistry. If you have any other questions, or would like to schedule an appointment, give us a call. We will be happy to hear from you.
How often should I have a dental exam and cleaning?
When should a child have his/her first dental appointment?
I have a terrible fear of going to the dentist yet I recognize the importance of seeing the dentist to maintain good oral health. What should I do?
General Dental Questions
How often should I brush and floss?
Why is it important to use dental floss?
What is the proper way to floss?
What should I do if I have bad breath?
What may cause bad breath?
What can I do to prevent bad breath?
What causes tooth loss?
What new methods are under development to treat and prevent tooth decay?
With so many toothpastes in the market today, can you offer any tips to help make a wise choice?
Improving Your Smile
What can I do about stained or discolored teeth?
What are the most widely used professional teeth whitening systems?
How can cosmetic dentistry help improve the appearance of my smile?
Dental Disease/Oral Cancer
How can I tell if I have gingivitis or periodontitis (gum disease)?
What are signs and systems of periodontal disease?
What are the signs and symptoms of oral cancer?
What causes oral cancer?
How safe are dental X-rays?
Women & Oral Health
Are women more prone to oral health problems?
Q: How often should I have a dental exam and cleaning?
A: You should have your teeth checked and cleaned at least twice a year, though your dentist or dental hygienist may recommend more frequent visits. Regular dental exams and cleaning visits are essential in preventing dental problems and maintaining the health of your teeth and gums. At these visits, your teeth are cleaned and checked for cavities. Additionally, there are many other things that are checked and monitored to help detect, prevent, and maintain your dental health. These include:
History review: Knowing the status of any current medical conditions, new medications,and illnesses, gives us insight to your over all health and also your dental health.
Examination of diagnostic x-rays (radiographs): Essential for detection of decay, tumors, cysts, and bone loss. X-rays also help determine tooth and root positions.
Oral cancer screening: Check the face, neck, lips, tongue, throat, tissues, and gums for any signs of oral cancer.
Gum disease evaluation: Check the gums and bone around the teeth for any signs of periodontal disease.
Examination of tooth decay: All tooth surfaces will be checked for decay with special dental instruments.
Examination of existing restorations: Check current fillings, crowns, etc.
Removal of calculus (tartar): Calculus is hardened plaque that has been left on the tooth for sometime and is now firmly attached to the tooth surface. Calculus forms above and below the gum line, and can only be removed with special dental instruments.
Removal of plaque: Plaque is a sticky, almost invisible film that forms on the teeth. It is a growing colony of living bacteria, food debris, and saliva. The bacteria produce toxins (poisons) that inflame the gums. This inflammation is the start of periodontal disease!
Teeth polishing: Removes stain and plaque that is not otherwise removed during tooth brushing and scaling.
Oral hygiene recommendations: Review and recommend oral hygiene aids as needed (electric dental toothbrushes, special cleaning aids, fluorides, rinses, etc.).
Review dietary habits: Your eating habits play a very important role in your dental health.
As you can see, a good dental exam and cleaning involves quite a lot more than just checking for cavities and polishing your teeth. We are committed to providing you with the best possible care, and to do so will require regular check-ups and cleanings.
Q: When should a child have his/her first dental appointment?
A: A child should have his first dental appointment no later than his third birthday. Many dentists recommend a child have his first appointment when his first tooth comes in.
Q: I have a terrible fear of going to the dentist yet I recognize the importance of seeing the dentist to maintain good oral health. What should I do?
A: If you fear going to the dentist, you are not alone. Between 9 percent and 15 percent of Americans state they avoid going to the dentist because of anxiety or fear. The first thing you should do is talk with your dentist. In fact, if your dentist doesn’t take your fear seriously, find another dentist. The key to coping with dental anxiety is to discuss your fears with your dentist. Once your dentist knows what your fears are, he or she will be better able to work with you to determine the best ways to make you less anxious and more comfortable.The good news is that today there are a number of strategies that can be tailored to the individual to reduce fear, anxiety, and pain. These strategies include use of medicines (to either numb the treatment area or sedatives or anesthesia to help you relax), use of lasers instead of the traditional drill for removing decay, application of a variety of mind/body pain and anxiety-reducing techniques (such as guided imagery, biofeedback and deep breathing, acupuncture, mental health therapies), and perhaps even visits to a dentophobia clinic or a support group.
Q: How often should I brush and floss?
A: Brushing and flossing help control the plaque and bacteria that cause dental disease. Plaque is a film of food debris, bacteria, and saliva that sticks to the teeth and gums. The bacteria in plaque convert certain food particles into acids that cause tooth decay. Also, if plaque is not removed, it turns into calculus (tartar). If plaque and calculus are not removed, they begin to destroy the gums and bone, causing periodontal (gum) disease. Plaque formation and growth is continuous and can only be controlled by regular brushing, flossing, and the use of other dental aids.
- Tooth brushing. Brush your teeth at least twice a day (especially before going to bed at night) with an ADA approved soft bristle brush and toothpaste. Brush at a 45 degree angle to the gums, gently using a small, circular motion, ensuring that you always feel the bristles on the gums. Brush the outer, inner, and biting surfaces of each tooth. Use the tip of the brush head to clean the inside front teeth. Brush your tongue to remove bacteria and freshen your breath.
- Electric toothbrushes are also recommended. They are easy to use and can remove plaque efficiently. Simply place the bristles of the electric brush on your gums and teeth and allow the brush to do its job, several teeth at a time.
- Flossing. Daily flossing is the best way to clean between the teeth and under the gum line. Flossing not only helps clean these spaces, it disrupts plaque colonies from building up, preventing damage to the gums, teeth, and bone. Take 12-16 inches (30-40cm) of dental floss and wrap it around your middle fingers, leaving about 2 inches (5cm) of floss between the hands. Using your thumbs and forefingers to guide the floss, gently insert the floss between teeth using a sawing motion. Curve the floss into a "C" shape around each tooth and under the gum line. Gently move the floss up and down, cleaning the side of each tooth. Floss holders are recommended if you have difficulty using conventional floss.
- Rinsing. It is important to rinse your mouth with water after brushing, and also after meals if you are unable to brush. If you are using an over-the-counter product for rinsing, it's a good idea to consult with your dentist or dental hygienist on it appropriateness for you.
Q: Why is it important to use dental floss?
A: Brushing our teeth removes food particles, plaque, and bacteria from all tooth surfaces, except in between the teeth. Unfortunately, our toothbrush can't reach these areas that are highly susceptible to decay and periodontal (gum) disease.Daily flossing is the best way to clean between the teeth and under the gum line. Flossing not only helps clean these spaces, it disrupts plaque colonies from building up, preventing damage to the gums, teeth, and bone. Plaque is a sticky, almost invisible film that forms on the teeth. It is a growing colony of living bacteria, food debris, and saliva. The bacteria produce toxins (acids) that cause cavities and irritate and inflame the gums. Also, when plaque is not removed above and below the gum line, it hardens and turns into calculus (tartar). This will further irritate and inflame the gums and also slowly destroy the bone. This is the beginning of periodontal disease.
Q: What is the proper way to floss?
- Take 12-16 inches (30-40cm) of dental floss and wrap it around your middle fingers,leaving about 2 inches (5cm) of floss between the hands.
- Using your thumbs and forefingers to guide the floss, gently insert the floss between teeth using a sawing motion.
- Curve the floss into a "C" shape around each tooth and under the gum line.
- Gently move the floss up and down, cleaning the side of each tooth.
- Floss holders are recommended if you have difficulty using conventional floss.
Daily flossing will help you keep a beautiful smile for life!
Q: What may cause bad breath?
A: Some causes of bad breath include:
- Morning time. Saliva flow almost stops during sleep and its reduced cleansing action allows bacteria to grow, causing bad breath.
- Certain Foods. Foods containing odor-causing compounds (garlic, onions) enter the blood stream; they are transferred to the lungs, where they are exhaled. Keeping a record of what you eat may help identify the cause of bad breath.
- Poor oral hygiene habits. Food particles remaining in the mouth promote bacterial growth.
- Periodontal (gum) disease. Colonies of bacteria and food debris reside under inflamed gums.
- Dental cavities and improperly fitted dental appliances. This may also contribute to bad breath.
- Dry mouth (Xerostomia). This may be caused by certain medications, salivary gland problems, or continuous mouth breathing. Tobacco products, dry the mouth, causing bad breath.
- Dieting. Certain chemicals called ketones are released in the breath as the body burns fat.
- Dehydration, hunger, and missed meals. Drinking water and chewing food increases saliva flow and washes bacteria away.
- Certain medical conditions. Illnesses, such as Diabetes, liver and kidney problems, chronic sinus infections, bronchitis, and pneumonia are several conditions that may contribute to bad breath.
Q: What can I do to prevent bad breath?
A: Practice good oral hygiene. Brush at least twice a day with an ADA approved fluoride toothpaste and toothbrush. Floss daily to remove food debris and plaque from in between the teeth and under the gum line. Brush or use a tongue scraper to clean the tongue and reach the back areas. Replace your toothbrush every 2 to 3 months. If you wear dentures or removable bridges, clean them thoroughly and place them back in your mouth in the morning. See your dentist regularly. Get a check-up and cleaning at least twice a year. If you have or have had periodontal disease, your dentist will recommend more frequent visits.
- Stop smoking/chewing tobacco. Ask your dentist what they recommend to help break the habit.
- Drink water frequently. Water will help keep your mouth moist and wash away bacteria. Use mouthwash/rinses. Some over-the-counter products only provide a temporary solution to mask unpleasant mouth odor. Ask your dentist about antiseptic rinses that not only alleviate bad breath, but also kill the germs that cause the problem.
In most cases, your dentist can treat the cause of bad breath. If it is determined that your mouth is healthy, but bad breath is persistent, your dentist may refer you to your physician to determine the cause of the odor and an appropriate treatment plan.
Q: What causes tooth loss?
A: Tooth decay and periodontal disease are the most common causes of tooth loss. Tooth decay takes place when most of the tooth's mineral makeup has been dissolved away and a hole (cavity) has formed. While tooth decay primarily affects children, periodontal disease, or gum disease, affects mostly adults. Periodontal disease is an infection of the gums caused by the buildup of plaque, and its earliest stage is known as gingivitis.
Q: What new methods are under development to treat and prevent tooth decay?
A: Several new treatments are under development. One experimental technique uses fluorescent light to detect the development of cavities long before they can be detected by traditional means, such as X-rays or dental examination. In many cases, if cavities can be detected early, the decay process can be stopped or reversed. Researchers are also working on a "smart filling" to prevent further tooth decay by slowly releasing fluoride over time around fillings and in adjacent teeth. New means to prevent tooth decay are also being studied. A study has shown that a chewing gum that contains the sweetener xylitol temporarily retarded the growth of bacteria that cause tooth decay. In addition, several materials that slowly release fluoride over time, which will help prevent further decay, are being explored. These materials would be placed between teeth or in pits and fissures of teeth. Toothpastes and mouth rinses that can reverse and "heal" early cavities are also being studied.
Q: With so many toothpastes in the market today, can you offer any tips to help make a wise choice?
A: Here’s some advice. First, when purchasing toothpaste for you or your child, select one that contains fluoride. Toothpastes with fluoride have been shown to prevent cavities. One word of caution: check the manufacturer’s label. Some toothpastes are not recommended in children under age 6. This is because young children swallow toothpaste, and swallowing too much fluoride can lead to tooth discoloration in permanent teeth.
It is also wise to select a product approved by the American Dental Association. The ADA’s Seal of Acceptance means that the product has met ADA criteria for safety and effectiveness, and that packaging and advertising claims are scientifically supported. Some manufacturers choose not to seek the ADA’s Seal of Acceptance. Although these products might be safe and effective, these products’ performance have not been evaluated or endorsed by the ADA.
Next, when considering other properties of toothpaste – such as whitening toothpastes, tartar-control, gum care, desensitizing, etc. -- the best advice for selecting among these products might be to simply ask your dental hygienist or dentist what the greatest concerns are for your mouth. Also, be aware that your needs will likely change as you get older. After consulting with your dentist or hygienist about your oral health’s greatest needs, look for products within that category (for example, within the tartar control brands or within the desensitizing toothpaste brands) that have received the ADA Seal of Acceptance.
Finally, some degree of personal preference comes into play. Choose the toothpaste that tastes and feels best. Gel or paste, wintergreen or spearmint all work alike. If you find that certain ingredients are irritating to your teeth, cheeks, or lips, or if your teeth have become more sensitive, or if your mouth is irritated after brushing, try changing toothpastes. If the problem continues, see your dentist.
Since the introduction of fluoride and other advances in dental care and dental products, is it still necessary to visit the dentist twice a year?
The standard recommendation still is to visit your dentist twice a year for check-ups and cleanings. The three best arguments that can still be made to support the twice-yearly visitation schedule are:
- So that your dentist can check for problems that you might not see or feel.
- To allow your dentist to find early signs of decay (Decay doesn’t become visible or cause pain until it reaches more advanced stages).
- To treat any other oral health problems found (Generally, the earlier a problem is found, the more manageable it is).
That being said, however, people who have taken great care of their teeth and gums, and have gone years without any problems whatsoever might choose to lengthen the time between visits. Ask your dentist what visitation schedule works best for your state of dental health.
At the other extreme, it should be kept in mind that some people — such as some people with gum disease, a genetic predisposition for plaque build-up or cavities, or a weakened immune system — might need to visit the dentist even more frequently than twice a year for optimal care.
Q: What can I do about stained or discolored teeth?
A: Since teeth whitening has now become the number one aesthetic concern of many patients, there are many products and methods available to achieve a brighter smile.
Professional teeth whitening (or bleaching) is a simple, non-invasive dental treatment used to change the color of natural tooth enamel, and is an ideal way to enhance the beauty of your smile. Over-the-counter products are also available, but they are much less effective than professional treatments and may not be approved by the American Dental Association (ADA).
As we age, the outer layer of tooth enamel wears away, eventually revealing a darker or yellow shade. The color of our teeth also comes from the inside of the tooth, which may become darker over time. Smoking, drinking coffee, tea, and wine may also contribute to tooth discoloration, making our teeth yellow and dull. Sometimes, teeth can become discolored from taking certain medications as a child, such as tetracycline. Excessive fluoridation (fluorosis) during tooth development can also cause teeth to become discolored.
It's important to have your teeth evaluated by your dentist to determine if you're a good candidate for bleaching. Occasionally, tetracycline and fluorosis stains are difficult to bleach and your dentist may offer other options, such as veneers or crowns to cover up such stains. Since teeth whitening only works on natural tooth enamel, it is also important to evaluate replacement of any old fillings, crowns, etc. before bleaching begins. Once the bleaching is done, your dentist can match the new restorations to the shade of the newly whitened teeth.
Since teeth whitening is not permanent, a touch-up may be needed every several years to keep your smile looking bright.
Q: What are the most widely used professional teeth whitening systems?
A: Some professional teeth whitening systems include:
- Home teeth whitening systems: At-home products usually come in a gel form that is placed in a custom-fitted mouth guard (tray), created from a mold of your teeth. The trays are worn either twice a day for approximately 30 minutes, or overnight while you sleep. It usually takes several weeks to achieve the desired results depending on the degree of staining and the desired level of whitening.
- In office teeth whitening: This treatment is done in the dental office and you will see results immediately. It may require more than one visit, with each visit lasting 30 to 60 minutes. While your gums are protected, a bleaching solution is applied to the teeth. A special light may be used to enhance the action of the agent while the teeth are whitened.
Some patients may experience tooth sensitivity after having their teeth whitened. This sensation is temporary and subsides shortly after you complete the bleaching process, usually within a few days to one week.
Teeth whitening can be very effective and can give you a brighter, whiter, more confident smile!
Q: How can cosmetic dentistry help improve the appearance of my smile?
A: If you're feeling somewhat self-conscious about your teeth, or just want to improve your smile, cosmetic dental treatments may be the answer to a more beautiful, confident smile.
Cosmetic dentistry has become very popular in the last several years, not only due the many advances in cosmetic dental procedures and materials available today, but also because patients are becoming more and more focused on improving their overall health. This includes dental prevention and having a healthier, whiter, more radiant smile.
There are many cosmetic dental procedures available to improve your teeth and enhance your smile. Depending on your particular needs, cosmetic dental treatments can change your smile dramatically, from restoring a single tooth to having a full mouth make-over. Ask your dentist how you can improve the health and beauty of your smile with cosmetic dentistry.
Here is a list, and brief description, of several common cosmetic procedures:
- Teeth Whitening: Bleaching lightens teeth that have been stained or discolored by age, food, drink, and smoking. Teeth darkened as a result of injury or taking certain medications can also be bleached, but the effectiveness depends on the degree of staining present.
- Composite (tooth-colored) Fillings: Also known as "bonding", composite fillings are now widely used instead of amalgam (silver) fillings to repair teeth with cavities, and also to replace old defective fillings. Tooth-colored fillings are also used to repair chipped, broken, or discolored teeth. This type of filling is also very useful to fill in gaps and to protect sensitive, exposed root surfaces caused by gum recession.
- Porcelain Veneers: Veneers are thin custom-made, tooth-colored shells that are bonded onto the fronts of teeth to create a beautiful individual smile. They can help restore or camouflage damaged, discolored, poorly shaped, or misaligned teeth. Unlike crowns, veneers require minimal tooth structure to be removed from the surface of the tooth.
- Porcelain Crowns (caps): A crown is a tooth-colored, custom-made covering that encases the entire tooth surface restoring it to its original shape and size. Crowns protect and strengthen teeth that cannot be restored with fillings or other types of restorations. They are ideal for teeth that have large, fractured or broken fillings and also for those that are badly decayed.
- Dental Implants: Dental implants are artificial roots that are surgically placed into the jaw to replace one or more missing teeth. Porcelain crowns, bridges, and dentures can be made specifically to fit and attach to implants, giving a patient a strong, stable, and durable solution to removable dental appliances.
- Orthodontics: Less visible and more effective brackets and wires are making straightening teeth with orthodontics much more appealing to adult patients. Also, in some cases, teeth may be straightened with custom-made, clear, removable aligners that require no braces.
Thanks to the advances in modern dentistry, cosmetic treatments can make a difference in making your smile shine!
Q: How can I tell if I have gingivitis or periodontitis (gum disease)?
A: Four out of five people have periodontal disease and don't know it! Most people are not aware of it because the disease is usually painless in the early stages. Unlike tooth decay, which often causes discomfort, it is possible to have periodontal disease without noticeable symptoms. Having regular dental check-ups and periodontal examinations are very important and will help detect if periodontal problems exist.
Periodontal disease begins when plaque, a sticky, colorless, film of bacteria, food debris, and saliva, is left on the teeth and gums. The bacteria produce toxins (acids) that inflame the gums and slowly destroy the bone. Brushing and flossing regularly and properly will ensure that plaque is not left behind to do its damage.
Other than poor oral hygiene, there are several other factors that may increase the risk of developing periodontal disease:
- Smoking or chewing tobacco. Tobacco users are more likely than nonusers to form plaque and tartar on their teeth.
- Certain tooth or appliance conditions. Bridges that no longer fit properly, crowded teeth, or defective fillings that may trap plaque and bacteria.
- Many medications. Steroids, cancer therapy drugs, blood pressure meds, oral contraceptives. Some medications have side affects that reduce saliva, making the mouth dry and plaque easier to adhere to the teeth and gums.
- Pregnancy, oral contraceptives, and puberty. Can cause changes in hormone levels, causing gum tissue to become more sensitive to bacteria toxins.
- Systemic diseases. Diabetes, blood cell disorders, HIV / AIDS, etc.
- Genetics may play role. Some patients may be predisposed to a more aggressive type of periodontitis. Patients with a family history of tooth loss should pay particular attention to their gums.
Q: What are signs and systems of periodontal disease?
A: Some Signs and Symptoms of Periodontal Disease are:
- Red and puffy gums. Gums should never be red or swollen.
- Bleeding gums. Gums should never bleed, even when you brush vigorously or use dental floss.
- Persistent bad breath. This may be caused by bacteria in the mouth.
- New spacing between teeth. This may be caused by bone loss.
- Loose teeth. This may be caused by bone loss or weakened periodontal fibers (fibers that support the tooth to the bone).
- Pus around the teeth and gums. This may be a sign that there is an infection present.
- Receding gums. This is a loss of gum around a tooth.
- Tenderness or Discomfort. Plaque, calculus, and bacteria irritate the gums and teeth.
Good oral hygiene, a balanced diet, and regular dental visits can help reduce your risk of developing periodontal disease.
Q: What are the signs and symptoms of oral cancer?
A: First, it’s important to note that more than 25 percent of all oral cancers occur in people who do not smoke and who only drink alcohol occasionally. To answer your question, the following are the common signs and symptoms of oral cancer:
- Swellings/thickenings, lumps, bumps, rough spots/crusts/,or eroded areas on the lips, gums, or other areas inside the mouth.
- The development of velvety white, red, or speckled (white and red) patches in the mouth.
- Unexplained bleeding in the mouth.
- Unexplained numbness, loss of feeling, or pain/tenderness in any area of the face, mouth, or neck.
- Persistent sores on the face, neck, or mouth that bleed easily and do not heal within two weeks.
- A soreness or feeling that something is caught in the back of the throat.
- Difficulty chewing or swallowing, speaking, or moving the jaw or tongue.
- Hoarseness, chronic sore throat, or changes in the voice.
- Ear pain.
- A change in the way your teeth or dentures fit together – a change in your "bite".
- Dramatic weight loss.
If you notice any of these changes, contact your dentist immediately for a professional examination.
Q: What causes oral cancer?
A: Tobacco (cigarettes, pipes, cigars, chewing tobacco, and snuff) is the most common cause of oral cancer. Combining tobacco use with heavy drinking can also foster the development of oral cancer. Bad hygiene, prolonged irritation of the oral cavity, and extended exposure to strong sunlight on the lips are among other causes of the disease. Many dentists believe vitamins A and E can help prevent the acquisition of oral cancer.
Q: How safe are dental X-rays?
A: Exposure to all sources of radiation — including the sun, minerals in the soil, appliances in your home, and dental X-rays — can damage the body’s tissues and cells, and can lead to the development of cancer in some instances. Fortunately, the dose of radiation you are exposed to during the taking of X-rays is extremely small.
Advances in dentistry over the years have lead to the low radiation levels emitted by today’s X-rays. Some of the improvements are new X-ray machines that limit the radiation beam to the small area being X-rayed, higher speed X-ray films that require shorter exposure time compared with older film speeds to get the same results, and the use of film holders that keep the film in place in the mouth (which prevents the film from slipping and the need for repeat X-rays and additional radiation exposure). Also, the use of lead-lined, full-body aprons protects the body from stray radiation (though this is almost non-existent with the modern dental X-ray machines). In addition, federal law requires that X-ray machines be checked for accuracy and safety every two years. Some states require more frequent checks.
Even with these advancements in safety, it should be kept in mind, however, that the effects of radiation are added together over a lifetime. So every little bit of radiation you receive from all sources counts.
Q: Are women more prone to oral health problems?
A: Yes. Women have an increased sensitivity to oral health problems because of the unique hormonal changes they experience. These hormonal changes not only affect the blood supply to the gum tissue, but also the body’s response to the toxins that result from plaque build-up. As a result of these changes, women are more prone to the development of periodontal disease at certain stages of their lives, as well as to other oral health problems. The five situations in a women’s life during which hormone fluctuations make them more susceptible to oral health problems are during puberty, the monthly menstruation cycle, when using oral contraceptives, during pregnancy, and at menopause.