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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.

Routine Care

Plaque is a film that accumulates naturally on your teeth every day. Unfortunately, excess plaque can lead to serious dental problems. Composed largely of bacteria, plaque can react with the residue of food and beverages you’ve consumed and release acids that gradually damage the enamel of your teeth and cause cavities.

Without consistent brushing and flossing, plaque that remains on your teeth eventually will harden and become calculus, also known as tartar. This substance generally requires a dentist or dental hygienist for its removal. More importantly, as plaque and tartar build up on your teeth, your gums can become swollen and tender, which is an early symptom of gum disease. As gum disease progresses, it can break down and destroy the tissue and bone that support your teeth. Research has even indicated a link between gum disease and other serious health problems like stroke, heart disease, pneumonia, and complications in pregnancy.

You can combat plaque problems by brushing twice a day and flossing daily, minimizing sugary foods and beverages, and seeing your dentist for regular check-ups and cleanings.

If you use a manual toothbrush properly, including brushing with good technique for two to three minutes twice a day, it can be just as effective as an electric toothbrush. Note, however, that proper use of a manual toothbrush, especially brushing long enough, often doesn’t happen. Children, in particular, may benefit from an electric toothbrush because they are more likely to have poorer brushing habits. Also, for those with arthritis or other problems with hand dexterity, an electric toothbrush can be a helpful alternative to a manual one. If you have questions on toothbrushes or the proper way to brush your teeth, be sure to ask your dentist.

Bad breath generally comes from improper oral hygiene. The most common culprit is fairly easy to understand: Food particles that remain in your mouth for long periods of time are broken down by bacteria. That process produces sulfur compounds in your mouth that—you guessed it—smell unpleasant. Other causes for bad breath can include smoking and tooth decay.

To control bad breath, the simplest advice is to brush and floss regularly. Additionally, staying hydrated, and thereby preventing a dry mouth, will also help to reduce mouth odor.

Yes, more serious health problems can be linked to bad breath, but in the majority of cases, bad breath is due to the reasons described above. If you have questions or concerns about bad breath, be sure to bring them up with your dentist.

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!

 

Professional cleanings conducted every six months are important for overall dental health—even for those who brush their teeth thoroughly twice a day and floss regularly. The hygienist can remove built-up plaque and tartar in hard to reach spaces that even brushing and flossing can miss. That means regular cleanings help prevent cavities and the onset of gum disease. It also means that regular cleanings are even more important for people who may be have less-than-deal ideal oral hygiene practices.

If you experience tartar build-up at a faster rate than the average person, it’s possible that the frequency of your cleanings may need to be increased.

Don’t forget that if you have dental insurance, most plans cover two cleanings per year. Also, professionally cleaned teeth feel great, look better, and leave you with the satisfaction that you’ve done a good deed not only for your teeth but also for your overall health.

For Moms and Dads

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. Because 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.

The first appearance of teeth in babies happens on average around the six-month mark, though don’t be surprised if you see initial signs of a tooth earlier or later than this. It’s not uncommon for your baby to be irritable and uncomfortable during this “teething” period because the gums become inflamed and sensitive, which can also cause congestion and drooling.

Typically, girls begin teething earlier than boys, though for both the most common area for the first teeth to show is in the lower front gum.

Note that primary teeth, of which there are 20, may continue to emerge in your child’s gums until around the age of six years old. These teeth in a sense set the stage for your 32 permanent teeth, which generally appear by age 12 or 13 (with wisdom teeth coming a bit later).

A cavity in anyone’s tooth, baby or adult, can cause pain and, worse, infection. Having a cavity filled stops the pain and prevents possible infection. Also, if your baby or toddler has cavities, it can cause him or her to have difficulty chewing food, causing a variety of negative consequences. The bottom line is that you want your baby’s teeth to remain as healthy as possible because it promotes a smoother, healthier process as permanent teeth emerge.

Untreated cavities mean higher levels of harmful bacteria. If permanent teeth begin to erupt in a high-bacteria environment, cavities and other problems are more likely for them as well. Also, decayed baby teeth or baby teeth that are removed too soon can lead to problems with permanent teeth, such as crowding. This can increase the need for braces or other orthodontal work later on.

If you run your tongue over your teeth, especially the back teeth you use to chew (your molars), you’ll notice something: Rather than having a smooth surface, they’re rough. You’re feeling the many nooks and crannies that even brushing can’t always clean properly. That means food can get trapped, which can lead to cavity-causing bacteria to flourish.

Although regular brushing and flossing is still the best way to keep your teeth healthy, the use of sealants can be an effective preventive measure. A sealant is a thin, protective coating adhered to your teeth, especially the chewing surface of your molars. The coating keeps food particles from reaching deep crevices that can be hard to clean.

Although adults can certainly benefit from sealants, children are especially good candidates. Their young teeth have yet to experience decay, which makes it a great time to apply a sealant. In addition, children’s teeth have not fully calcified. That means those nooks and crannies are actually deeper in their teeth than in adults—and therefore can be even more difficult to thoroughly clean.

The American Dental Association reports that sealants can reduce the risk of decay in molars by nearly 80%, and the Centers for Disease Control has found that children without sealants had three times as many cavities compared to those with sealants.

For any questions or concerns about the use of sealants, be sure to talk to your dentist.

Fillings, X-Rays, and Other Procedures

The occurrence of pain in a tooth signifies the problem has reached a more advanced stage. That’s why you shouldn’t wait until a tooth hurts. Having regular dental exams can lead to a cavity being caught early—and that’s good news. Yes, the cavity will still need to be filled; however, a cavity that goes undetected until it’s causing pain can possibly mean that it will be more difficult—and expensive—to fix.

A tooth that is severely decayed or infected can be saved—rather than be removed—through a procedure commonly known as a root canal.

The typical tooth has around one to three roots. Each of these roots has one or two canals that essentially go from the top of your tooth to the bottom. Within these canals is a soft, living tissue called pulp, which consists of nerves and blood vessels. When a root canal is done, the pulp is removed, your tooth’s canals are disinfected, and a special dental filler is used to seal them off. Your tooth will receive a temporary filling after the root canal procedure. The final step in the process will be to place a permanent covering, such as a crown, over the treated tooth.

Root canals today are generally painless procedures thanks to the effectiveness of local anesthetic and advances in dental technology.

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.

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.

References:

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.

Dental Emergencies

In a situation where a tooth breaks or becomes fully dislodged, time is of the essence. Locate and gather the tooth (or teeth) and, even if it’s in pieces, carefully rinse it off with warm water. Next, prepare the tooth to be transported by securely placing it in milk or in a collection of your saliva.

Notify your dentist of the emergency and get yourself and your tooth to the dental office as soon as possible. Depending on the severity of the accident, it’s possible that the tooth can be re-implanted.

You should consider this an actual dental emergency. If the incident occurs outside of regular business hours, you should still call your dental office. If for some reason you can’t reach your dentist, go to the nearest urgent care or emergency room for assistance.

For a dental emergency, you ideally want to contact your regular dentist. If that’s not possible, then contact another dentist near you. You may also want to go directly to an urgent care or an emergency room. (Check the web for locations.) If for whatever reason you can’t reach a dentist or can’t leave your location, consider the following tips for temporary help.

If you have a toothache…

  • Mix a teaspoon of salt with a cup of warm water and gently rinse your mouth with it.
  • Brush the affected area gently and carefully floss the area in case there’s trapped food causing pain.
  • If it’s okay for you to take an over-the-counter pain medication such as ibuprofen, then do so. It may relieve your pain temporarily.
  • A topical pain relief gel like Orajel or Anbesol contains the local anesthetic benzocaine. It may provide minimal temporary pain relief.

Please note that even if your toothache pain subsides, you still need to see your dentist to identify the reason for the pain. More important, the pain may likely return and even worsen over time—which is all the more reason to see a dentist as soon as possible.

If you have a permanent or temporary crown that breaks off…

You want to keep the tooth area as clean as possible. Rinse the area with salt water frequently (one teaspoon of table salt to one cup of warm water). If not too sensitive, the area can be gently brushed as well.

It’s possible that the original crown may be re-cemented. However, if too much time goes by, that may not be possible and a new crown will need to be made.

If you have a broken filling or tooth…

Check your local drug store for a temporary filling product. Until you see your dentist, this can be placed over the affected area temporarily. As a last resort, you can use sugar-free gum to cover the area. NOTE: See also “What if I break my tooth in an accident?” located above.

You may wonder why replacing a tooth is necessarily at all. What’s important to understand is that a missing tooth can initiate a whole series of undesirable, even harmful, consequences. For example, your chewing habits will likely be adversely affected, and, on top of that, your other teeth may shift to fill in the gap caused by the missing tooth, leading to serious bite problems.

Your options for replacing a missing tooth will depend on where the tooth gap is located. The most common recommendations for replacing a missing tooth include a bridge, a partial denture, or a dental implant. Each of these options has specific pros and cons, which can be discussed with your dentist.

Medical Questions

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.

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 in many cases elevates the 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.

Dentures

If you’ve had your dentures for more than 3-5 years it’s possible that they actually don’t fit anymore.

If you’re a denture-wearer, you should understand that the removal of your permanent teeth has initiated a change in the bone that once held those teeth. Think about it like this: The bone of your mouth doesn’t just support your teeth; your teeth also support the bone. So, what does this mean for you, the denture-wearer?

First, it means that the bone will begin to gradually change. More specifically, it will begin to shrink. Over time, that means the dentures you once had fitted for your mouth, say, five years ago, no longer fit well.

Note that trying to compensate for looser dentures by using excess denture adhesive is not a good remedy. In fact, doing this can actually lead to more rapid bone loss—and a worsening denture fit.

See your dentist if you’re having problems with the fit of your dentures. Remedies can include either relining the surface of your dentures or refitting you and creating new dentures.