Frequently Asked Questions

General Dentistry

How often should I see my dentist?

You should visit your dentist at least every six months or more frequently to get your teeth cleaned. By seeing your dentist twice a year, your dentist can monitor your oral health and help you prevent any problems that may arise before they become uncomfortable or require more comprehensive or expensive treatment. The dentist may suggest more frequent visits, depending on the diagnosis.

What causes tooth decay?

Tooth decay is caused by plaque in your mouth reacting with the sugars and starches in food. This reaction produces an acid which damages the enamel over time and weakens the tooth. The weakened area becomes soft and a hole or “cavity” forms.

Are X-rays a danger to my health?

X-rays or radiographs, help your dentist determine the presence or degree of periodontal disease, abscesses and some abnormal growth such as cysts and tumors. They can help pinpoint the location of cavities and other signs of disease that may not be possible to detect through a visual examination. Health care providers should be sensitive to patient’s concerns about exposure to radiation.

What is root planing and why is it done?

Root planing is a technique performed by a dental hygienist to stop the adverse effects of periodontal disease. The procedure cleans below the gum line and smoothes the roots. When the roots are smoothed, the gums may reattach to the root, stopping the bacteria from spreading.

What are porcelain veneers, why are they used?

Porcelain veneers are ultrathin shells of ceramic material which are bonded to the front of teeth. This procedure can be an ideal choice for improving the appearance of the front teeth by masking discolorations, whitening teeth, and or reshaping a smile.

What are dental implants and how do they work?

Dental implants are substitutes for natural tooth roots and rely on the jawbone for support. Strategically placed, implants can now be used to support permanently cemented bridges, eliminating the need for a denture. The cost tends to be greater, but the implants and bridges more closely resemble real teeth.

What is a root canal?

A root canal is a procedure done to save the damaged or dead pulp in the root canal of the tooth by cleaning out the diseased pulp and reshaping the canal. The canal is filled with gutta percha, a rubber-like material, to prevent recontamination of the tooth. The tooth is then permanently protected with a gold or porcelain crown. This enables patients to save their tooth.

When is the best time to remove wisdom teeth?

When the removal of wisdom teeth is determined necessary, it is best done when the roots are approximately formed, or three fourths developed, usually in the adolescent years. Removal at this time allows for an easier procedure and decreases the risk of damage to nerves in that area.

What is the difference between a cap and crown?

None. There is no difference between a cap and a crown.

How long do crowns last?

Crowns should last approximately 5 to 8 years. However, with good oral hygiene and regular check ups most crowns will last much longer. Some damaging habits like grinding your teeth, chewing ice, or fingernail biting may cause this period of time to decrease significantly.

Oral Health

What causes bad breath and what can be done about it?

Bad breath, or halitosis, is primarily caused by poor oral hygiene, but can also be caused by retained food particles, gum disease, drainage from sinus dripping, or systemic, respiratory, or gastrointestinal problems. Proper brushing including brushing the tongue, cheeks, and the roof of the mouth will remove bacteria and food particles. Flossing removes accumulated bacteria, plaque, and food that may be trapped between the teeth. Mouth rinses are effective in temporary relief of bad breath. Consult your dentist and /or physician if the condition persists.

My gums bleed when I brush, what does it mean?

Bleeding gums is an early indicator of gingivitis, or swollen gums, usually caused by plaque and/or calculus accumulated under the gum line. If left untreated, gingivitis can lead to bone loss and eventual tooth loss. Gingivitis can be reversed by proper brushing and flossing within a few weeks. If bleeding persists ten to fourteen days, consult your dentist.

What causes gum disease?

Gum (periodontal) disease is caused by bacteria. These bacteria, if left along the gum line, will irritate and inflame the gums. The gums then begin to bleed and swell allowing the bacteria to go deeper under the gum line. If the inflammation is allowed to continue, the bone will begin to demineralization and dissolve. As the bone dissolves around the teeth, the teeth become unsupported and will fall out. Unfortunately, pain does not occur until the final stages of the disease and treatment at that time has very little chance of being successful. If your gums bleed regularly, seek treatment as soon as possible.

Does bleaching damage the teeth?

No. When carbamide peroxide is the active whitening solution. When it contacts water, hydrogen peroxide is released which whitens the teeth. Bleaching does not soften, dematerialize or weaken the teeth.

How can I stop grinding my teeth at night?

Grinding your teeth can be damaging to the teeth and also difficult to stop. If vigorous grinding occurs at night, teeth can be worn down to the gum line because the instinctive reflex to stop does not work while you are sleeping. Grinding due to stress can only be cured by removing the stress trigger. If grinding continues, a night guard may be prescribing to prevent further damage to the teeth.

What causes my jaw to pop when I open it?

There is a pad or disk that separates the jaw bone from the base of the skull. The primary cause of the “popping” occurs when you open your mouth too wide and the jaw bone ”pops” off the pad or disk. Treatment is not required unless pain is associated with the “pop” or the jaw locks.

What can be done for ulcers or canker sores in the mouth?

Ulcers are very difficult to treat. There is no proven technique that will eliminate ulcers or speed the recovery time once they appear. There are a few medications that will give temporary relief from pain, but they need to be started as soon as symptoms appear. Ulcers will generally diminish and disappear in two weeks.

Are silver fillings or fluoride a danger to my health? What are the alternatives?

Dental amalgam, or silver filling material, is a mixture of mercury and alloy of silver, tin, and copper. The release of mercury in silver fillings is so small that it is much less than what patients are exposed to in food, air and water. There are, however, other materials that can be used for restorations. These include gold, porcelain, and composite resins. These materials are more costly than amalgam and, with the exception of gold, are not as durable.

Fluoride is a compound of the element fluorine, which is found universally throughout nature in water, soil, air, and most foods. Fluoride is absorbed easily into the tooth enamel, especially in children’s growing teeth. Once teeth are developed, fluoride makes the entire tooth structure more resistant to decay and promotes demineralization, which aids in repairing early decay before the damage is visible.

Children's Dental Health

At what age are my children supposed to see a dentist?

A child’s first visit should be between age 2 and 3. Some children require a bit more time to be comfortable. If parents notice an area of concern, the child should see a dentist as soon as possible.

Why is it important to fix baby teeth that have decay? Aren’t they going to come out soon anyway?

It is very important to maintain the baby teeth because these teeth hold space for the future eruption of the permanent teeth. If a baby tooth decays or is removed too early, the space necessary for the permanent teeth is lost and can only be regained through orthodontic treatment. Infected baby teeth can cause the permanent teeth to develop improperly, resulting in stains, pits, and weaker teeth.

When will my child lose his/her baby teeth?

Children will begin losing their teeth at approximately age 5. They will usually lose their front teeth first. Children will continue to lose baby teeth until age 12 or 13 when all of the permanent teeth finally erupt.

When does thumb sucking become damaging to the teeth?

Generally, if the child has stopped sucking his/her thumb by age 5, there is no permanent damage. If the child is a vigorous and constant thumb sucker, however, there can be moderate to severe movement of teeth and prevention of normal bone growth. Orthodontic intervention may be needed.

Should my child wear a mouth guard while playing sports?

It is strongly recommended that children wear mouth guards while playing any contact sport. It is much easier to prevent an injury than to repair one. The earlier a child begins to wear the mouth guard, the sooner it becomes comfortable and increases the likelihood they will continue to wear it as they get older.

What should I do if my child gets a tooth knocked out?

If the tooth is a permanent tooth, time is extremely crucial. Immediately stick the tooth back in the socket. Do not worry about getting it straight or having it turned backwards, just get it in the socket and immediately call your dentist. If you are uncomfortable placing the tooth in the socket, put it in a glass of milk and get your child to the dentist as quickly as possible. If the tooth is a baby tooth, do not put it in the socket because damage to the permanent tooth can occur. When in doubt, transport tooth and child to the dentist as soon as possible.