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Dental Facts: Important questions to ask your dentist.

1. What can I do to prevent cavities?

Dental cleanings remove plaque from teeth and reduce the risk of cavities. Your dentist will check your teeth for cavities after each cleaning. Cavities are tooth decay, or holes that form on the surface of your teeth. They don’t typically cause discomfort in the early stages, but pain and sensitivity may develop if you ignore the problem.

Different factors increase the risk for cavities. These include drinking sugary beverages, eating sugary foods, and bacteria in the mouth. Your dentist can recommend a plan to reduce your number of cavities. This can include brushing or flossing more often, avoiding certain types of foods, and chewing sugarless gum throughout the day to increase the amount of saliva in your mouth.

2. 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 gumline.

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.

3. What can I do to improve my dental health?

Since everyone's mouth is different, improving your oral health may require a customized dental routine. Your dentist may make specific recommendations based on the present health of your mouth and teeth. If you have more plaque or tartar than the average person, your dentist may suggest flossing more often each day, or recommend more frequent dental visits. A dentist may demonstrate the proper way to floss if there’s a lot of a bacterium in your mouth.

Your dentist can also offer diet recommendations for good dental health. For example, the ADA recommends drinking plenty of water and eating a variety of foods from each of the five major food groups. These include:

  • Whole grains
  • Fruits
  • Green Vegetables
  • Rich sources of protein
  • Low fat dairy products

4. Is my medication affecting my oral health?

Some medications can increase the risk for tooth decay. In fact, dry mouth is a side effect of more than 400 medications. People who have dry mouth have a lower amount of saliva in their mouth. Saliva helps control bacteria in the mouth and washes away food particles. A lower amount of saliva raises the risk for cavities.

5. Do you see warning signs of a serious condition?

Regular dental exams can offer clues about your overall health. If your dentist detects an issue, they may recommend following up with your family doctor. For example, erosion of tooth enamel can be caused by acid reflux disease or grinding your teeth at night. Swollen, receding gums can be an early sign of diabetes. Inflamed gums and loose teeth can be a warning sign of heart disease. Although several medications can cause dry mouth, this problem is also a sign of diabetes or Parkinson's disease.

6. Why do I need dental X-rays?

Your dentist will take X-rays of your mouth if you’re a new patient, and they may repeat X-rays once a year. An X-ray helps your dentist identify mouth diseases that can’t be detected by oral examination. There’s usually an additional cost for X-rays. But these imaging tests can potentially save you money because your dentist can diagnose and correct teeth issues early. X-rays can detect:

  • tooth decay
  • one loss
  • changes in the bone
  • abscess
  • cysts
  • tumors

7. What causes sensitive teeth?

Pain or sensitivity felt after eating or drinking something hot or cold can be a nuisance. Many issues can trigger sensitivity, like:

  • brushing too hard
  • eating acidic foods
  • tooth decay
  • grinding your teeth
  • using teeth whitening products

Gingivitis and periodontal disease can cause sensitivity. Your dentist can check your mouth for signs of these diseases and offer suggestions for treating pain. Sometimes, sensitivity develops after dental work, such as a cleaning or a root canal. This type of sensitivity isn’t permanent, and usually resolves within a couple of weeks.

8. Are electric tooth brushes better than manual one?

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

9. 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.

10. 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 clinic, 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 30 years - take advantage of our experience! We’re here to help!

11.  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.

12.  Why don't my dentures seem to fit anymore?

If you’ve had your dentures for more than 5 years it’s possible that they actually don’t fit properly 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 and more denture adhesive until the desired fit is achieved. Unfortunately, this can cause faster loss of bone and 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.

13. 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.

14.  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.

15.  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.

16. Why is fluoride important to my dental health?

You may hear the term fluoride when watching commercials for toothpaste and mouthwash. Fluoride is a mineral in many foods and water. It strengthens tooth enamel and lowers the risk of tooth decay. After an oral exam, your dentist can determine if you need to increase your fluoride intake. You can use toothpaste and mouthwashes containing fluoride.

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