Frequently Asked Question

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Q1: How often should I go to my Dentist for a Check-up?

A: Some people tend to have a rather strange attitude towards checkups. If the dentist does not find something wrong, their time has been wasted. As a matter of fact, a series of successful visits can discourage them from ever seeing their dentist and hygienist again. The idea that you should only see the dentist when something is wrong is not only unwise but can end up costing you a lot of money, comfort, time, and even your health.

Your dentist is trained to detect and treat many problems before you are even aware of them. The goal is prevention - prevent disease, decay and tooth loss. Your dentist can help you but only if you make the appointment. It all comes back to teamwork. Only you, your dentist and your hygienist can determine how often to make a visit, but for most people, twice a year is sufficient. Checkups should NOT be a one-time event. They are necessary for regular assessments of the condition and the well being of your mouth. Check-up procedures vary with each dentist, but basically will contain: a review of dental and medical history, an overall examination of the mouth including oral cancer screening, a professional cleaning, possibly a fluoride treatment, and a general assessment of hygiene at home. Regular checkups are a MUST in the fight against gum disease.

Q2: Do I really need x-rays?

A: Dental x-rays are taken routinely by your dentist. There are many diseases and dental defects, which can not be seen by the naked eye, especially where teeth are concerned. These may include such things as decay under old fillings, teeth trapped below the gums, cavities between the teeth, bone loss as a result of gum disease and changes in either jaw bone structure which can be affected by many systemic diseases.

If you are a new patient, your dentist may recommend x-rays to check the current status of your mouth and to check for hidden problems. Upon your first visit to the dentist he or she will usually take those x-rays that will be necessary to comprehensively assess your oral health. A full series of x-rays usually consists of 14 - 18 films. A Panoramic x-ray film (which shows a much greater area of your jaw bone) may be needed as well in order for your dentist to comfortably and competently examine you. Every six months or so your dentist may take a small series of x-rays consisting of four to six films. A six-month period is a long time in the life of a cavity and it is for this reason that a visit to the dentist every six months is so important.

Q3: Are x-rays safe?

A: Yes. Numerous precautions and advances in x-ray equipment help protect patients from receiving unnecessary radiation. The amount of radiation received from a dental x-ray is extremely small compared to other naturally occurring sources of radiation, including minerals in the soil, radon and cosmic radiation from outer space. Unlike their medical counterparts dental x-rays are very low in radiation. A full-mouth series of films, will deliver a dose that is equivalent to about 8 days of exposure of naturally occurring environmental radiation. The reason for this is that the amount of radiation needed to expose a film the size of a dental x-ray is very small. Also the areas in your mouth that are being x-rayed are far less dense than other areas of your body and therefore require very little radiation in order to pick up the image. The beam of radiation is very narrow and literally passes through the cheek and out of your body. The rest of your body is shielded from any stray particles with a lead apron.

With the advances in computer aided dentistry, dentists can now provide patients with the latest in diagnostic imaging. The results include more exact diagnosis, greater confidence in treatment and patient/staff protection.

X-rays are an extremely useful and important diagnostic tool and can aid in preventing many major problems. The importance of routine thorough examinations by your dental team will do much to avoid major problems.

Dental X-rays may reveal:

  • the number, size, and position of teeth
  • unerrupted or impacted teeth
  • the presence and extent of dental caries
  • bone damage (such as from periodontitis)
  • abscessed teeth
  • fractured jaw
  • gingivitis
  • impacted tooth
  • malocclusion of teeth
  • other abnormalities of the teeth and jaw bones

Q4: What is gum disease?

A: Gum disease (or periodontal disease or gingivitis) is the number one cause of tooth loss today. The reason you lose teeth from gum disease is because this disease attacks the gums as well as the bone, which are the foundation in which your teeth rest. As the bone literally dissolves away from around your teeth, your teeth become loose and eventually fall out. Anyone at any age is susceptible to gum disease. Gum disease is caused by plaque. If the plague is not removed on a daily basis it will form calculus, which is the breeding ground for the germs which cause periodontal disease.

Bleeding gums are the first sign that there may be a problem with the gums. Puffy, tender red gums are also a sign that there is an infection present. Bleeding gums however are not always present even in severe cases of gum disease. Routine and regular visits to your dentist are the best way of catching gum disease in its early stages before too much damage has been caused. Gum disease will not go away by itself or with improved home care. The only way of removing plaque deep under the gums is with professional cleanings. Once you have had a gum problem you will always be susceptible to recurring problems, so be sure to see your dentist on a regular basis - every two to three months, unless he or she recommends otherwise.

Q5: How does a tooth decay?

A: A substance known as plaque causes tooth decay. Plaque is a clear bacteria laden film, which develops on the teeth. The bacteria in plaque interact with the starches and sugars we eat and form an acid, which breaks down or de-mineralizes our teeth. As this process is going on, the properties of our saliva act to help re-mineralize teeth. When the demineralization process is faster than that of remineralization a cavity occurs.

Several things can be done to slow down or totally prevent this breakdown process which leads to cavities. One of the most important contributors to decay are sugars, and eliminating or drastically reducing your intake of them will help greatly in preventing tooth decay. Proper brushing and flossing, and removal of the plaque will also help in preventing breakdown. Home fluoride rinses help aid in the remineralization process. Of course routine visits to your dentist are of importance not only in the early detection of cavities but for professional cleanings and fluoride treatments in maintaining a healthy mouth.

Q6: Do you grind your teeth and What is TMJ?

A: Often people who are under an unusual amount of pressure will deal with their tension and stress, by clenching or grinding their teeth while sleeping. Grinding your teeth at any time is considered a hazard and can affect the total well being of your mouth. Grinding your teeth can cause damage to the tempromandibular joint and can alter your bite. If you hear a clicking or popping in your jaw joints when you chew, you may suffer from tempromandibular joint dysfunction commonly called TMJ. Although stress-related grinding of your teeth at night is one cause of TMJ, other causes of TMJ have been traced to or associated with a bad bite, poor posture and even sleep positions. Injury or aging can also cause TMJ disorders. TMJ can create headaches, dizziness, buzzing or ringing in the ears and dull pain around the ears that radiates to neck, back and shoulders.

Treatment of TMJ problems varies with the cause. Your dentist may suggest relaxation exercises to reduce tension, a special diet, physical therapy, or your dentist may make an appliance to help relax your jaw muscles and aid in restoring normal joint functions. If you believe that you suffer from a TMJ disorder, tell your dentist so that the condition can be monitored and diagnosed, then follow his or her recommended treatment. Again, if you have any concerns, please consult your dentist.

Q7: Is tooth whitening safe?

A: Whitening teeth with carbamide peroxide under the supervision of a dentist has been shown to be safe for teeth and gums. Some patients have experienced increased tooth sensitivity and some temporary discomfort of their gums. These symptoms tend to disappear within 1-3 days after stopping the process. Usually after the sensitivity disappears the whitening process can be started again and usually the sensitivity does not return. In any case, any reaction should be reported immediately to your dentist or hygienist for their special instructions. Over-the-counter quick bleaching kits may cause problems that you may be unaware of such as irritation of the gums and surrounding soft tissue. Overzealous use of over-the-counter home bleaching can wear away tooth enamel, especially because these solutions have a very high acid content. We can not over emphasize that these types of procedures are best controlled at your dental office. Your progress will be monitored carefully which will certainly reduce most secondary effects. Only a dentist can safely make your teeth their whitest.