Get a better understanding of dental issues and oral health

Our team has compiled a list of frequently asked questions about dentistry and oral health so that you can be better informed. Get in touch today if you still have questions.

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Below are some of the most frequently asked questions patients have about dentistry and oral health issues. If you have any other questions or would like to schedule an appointment, we would love to hear from you.

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 we may recommend more frequent visits if necessary.

Regular dental exams and cleanings are essential in preventing dental problems and maintaining the health of your teeth and gums. At these routine visits, we clean and check your teeth for cavities and we do a number of other things that help us help you maintain your dental health, including:

  • Medical history review: Knowing the status of any current medical conditions, new medications, and illnesses gives us insight into your overall health as well as your dental health.
  • Diagnostic X-ray review: X-rays are essential for detecting decay, tumors, cysts, and bone loss, and they also help determine tooth and root positions.
  • Oral cancer screening: We check the face, neck, lips, tongue, throat, tissues, and gums for any signs of oral cancer.
  • Gum disease evaluation: We check the gums and bone around your teeth for any signs of disease.
  • Tooth decay examination: All tooth surfaces are checked for decay using special dental instruments.
  • Existing restorations examination: We check your current fillings, crowns, and other restorations to make sure they are still in good shape.
  • Calculus (tartar) removal: Calculus is hardened plaque that has been left on the tooth for some time 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.
  • Plaque removal: Plaque is a sticky, almost invisible film that forms on the teeth. It is a combination of living bacteria, food debris, and saliva. The bacteria produce toxins that inflame the gums, and this inflammation is the start of periodontal disease.
  • Teeth polishing: Polishing teeth removes stains and plaque that are not otherwise removed during brushing and scaling.
  • Oral hygiene recommendations: We review and recommend oral hygiene aids as needed (electric 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 requires regular check-ups and cleanings.

Q: What should I do if I have bad breath?

A: Bad breath can be an unpleasant and embarrassing condition. Many of us may not even realize that we have bad breath, but everyone has it from time to time, especially in the morning.

There are various reasons a person may have bad breath, but in healthy people, the major reason is due to microbial deposits on the tongue, especially the back of the tongue. Some studies have shown that simply brushing the tongue reduces bad breath by as much as 70 percent.

What can cause bad breath?

  • Sleeping – Saliva flow nearly stops during sleep, which allows bacteria to grow, causing bad breath.
  • Certain foods – Garlic, onions, and other foods containing odor-causing compounds that enter the bloodstream and are transferred to the lungs, where they are exhaled.
  • Poor oral hygiene habits – Food particles remaining in the mouth promote bacterial growth.
  • Periodontal (gum) disease – Colonies of bacteria and food debris residing under inflamed gums.
  • Dental cavities and improperly fitted dental appliances – These conditions may also contribute to bad breath.
  • Dry mouth – Certain medications, salivary gland problems, or continuous mouth breathing can contribute to dry mouth.
  • Tobacco products – Any form of tobacco will 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 and illnesses – Diabetes, liver and kidney problems, chronic sinus infections, bronchitis, and pneumonia are some of the conditions that may contribute to bad breath.

Keeping a record of what you eat may help identify the cause of bad breath. Also, review your current medications, recent surgeries, or illnesses with your dentist.

What can I do to prevent bad breath?

  • 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, we will recommend more frequent visits.
  • Stop smoking/using tobacco – Ask us what we recommend to help break the habit.
  • Drink water frequently – Water will help keep your mouth moist and wash away bacteria.
  • Use a mouthwash/rinse – Ask us about antiseptic rinses that not only alleviate bad breath, but also kill the germs that cause the problem.

In most cases, we can treat the cause of bad breath. If we determine that your mouth is healthy, but bad breath is persistent, we may refer you to your physician to determine the cause of the odor and an appropriate treatment plan.

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 exams is 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 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 damage.

Other than poor oral hygiene, there are several factors that may increase the risk of developing periodontal disease:

  • Smoking or using tobacco in any form – Tobacco users are more likely to form plaque and tartar on their teeth.
  • Certain tooth or appliance conditions – Bridges that no longer fit properly, crowded teeth, or defective fillings can trap plaque and bacteria.
  • Many medications – Steroids, cancer therapy drugs, blood pressure meds, oral contraceptives and other medications can have side effects that reduce saliva, making your mouth dry so that plaque will more easily adhere to the teeth and gums.
  • Puberty/menstruation and pregnancy– Changes in hormone levels can cause gum tissue to become more sensitive to bacteria toxins.
  • Systemic diseases – Diabetes, blood cell disorders, HIV / AIDS, among others
  • Genetics – 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.

Signs and Symptoms of Periodontal Disease

  • Red and puffy gums – Gums should not be red or swollen, but pink and firm.
  • Bleeding gums – Gums should never bleed, even when you brush vigorously or floss.
  • Persistent bad breath
  • New spacing between teeth – due to bone loss
  • Loose teeth – Also due to bone loss or weakened periodontal fibers that attach the tooth to the bone
  • Pus around the teeth and gums – This is a sign that there is an infection.
  • Receding gums
  • 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: How often should I brush and floss?

A: Brush your teeth at least twice a day (especially before going to bed at night) with an ADA approved soft-bristle brush and fluoride toothpaste. Floss at least once a day to clean between the teeth and under the gum line.

Brushing and flossing help control the plaque and bacteria that cause dental disease.
Plaque is a film made 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. 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 gently, at a 45 degree angle to the gums, 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 the work.
  • Flossing – Take 12-16 inches (30-40 cm) of dental floss and wrap it around your middle fingers, leaving about 2 inches (5 cm) of floss between your 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 ask us if it’s appropriate or if we might recommend a different product.

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, which 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 stops plaque colonies from building up, preventing damage to the gums, teeth, and bone.

How to floss properly:

  • Take 12-16 inches (30-40 cm) of dental floss and wrap it around your middle fingers, leaving about 2 inches (5 cm) 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 healthy, beautiful smile for life!

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. Cosmetic dentistry has become very popular in the last several years, not only due to 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 us how you can improve the health and beauty of your smile with cosmetic dentistry.

Cosmetic procedures include:

  • Teeth Whitening
  • Composite (tooth-colored) Fillings
  • Porcelain Veneers
  • Porcelain Crowns (caps)
  • Dental Implants
  • Orthodontics

Thanks to the advances in modern dentistry, cosmetic treatments can really make your smile shine!

Q: What are porcelain veneers and how can they improve my smile?

A: Porcelain veneers are very thin shells of tooth-shaped porcelain that are individually crafted to cover the fronts of teeth. They are very durable and will not stain, making them a very popular solution for anyone seeking to restore or enhance the beauty of their smile. Veneers may be used to restore or correct the following dental conditions:

  • Severely discolored or stained teeth
  • Unwanted or uneven spaces
  • Worn or chipped teeth
  • Slight tooth crowding
  • Misshapen teeth
  • Teeth that are too small or large

Veneers are an excellent dental treatment that can dramatically improve your teeth and give you a natural, beautiful smile.

Q: What can I do about stained or discolored teeth?

A: 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.

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 widely available, but they are much less effective than professional treatments and may not be approved by the American Dental Association (ADA).

It’s important to have your teeth evaluated by your dentist to determine if you’re a good candidate for bleaching. Teeth whitening can be very effective and can give you a brighter, whiter, more confident smile!

Q: What are my options if I have missing teeth?

A: Losing a tooth or multiple teeth can be a very traumatic experience, and it’s very unfortunate when it does happen. If teeth are lost due to injury or illness or they have to be removed, it is imperative that they be replaced to avoid cosmetic and dental problems in the future. Options for replacement of missing teeth include:

  • Removable bridges – Usually made of tooth-colored, artificial teeth combined with metal clasps that hook onto adjacent natural teeth, removable bridges are the most economical option for replacing missing teeth, but may be the least aesthetically pleasing because the metal clasps on the appliances are often impossible to completely conceal.
  • Fixed bridges – The benefit of this type of bridge is that it is fixed (not removable) and very sturdy. The disadvantage is that in order to create a fixed appliance, two healthy, natural teeth will have to be crowned (capped) to hold the bridge in place.
  • Dentures – This type of tooth replacement is used when most or all of the natural teeth are missing in one dental arch. Dentures are removable artificial teeth that are made to closely resemble your original teeth.
  • Implants – Implants are a great way to replace one or more missing teeth and can also be used to support dentures. They are very stable, durable, and are the most aesthetically pleasing tooth replacement option.

If you are missing teeth, ask us if they need replacement and what options are available to you. Together we will select the best replacement option for your particular case. Prevention and early treatment is always less involved and less costly than delaying treatment and allowing a serious problem to develop.

Q: What can be done about old, unattractive, or discolored fillings?

A: Old fillings are not only unattractive, they can also become defective. When a filling is old, the margins (space between the tooth and filling) may eventually open and allow bacteria and food debris to enter, potentially causing dental decay. We can check your fillings and evaluate if they are defective and need replacement. Also, if you simply want to replace fillings that are unattractive, we can advise you on which ones should be replaced first and what replacement options would best suit you. There are many state-of-the-art dental filling materials and procedures available today that are quick, painless, and cost effective for replacing old, unattractive or defective fillings.

Options for replacing old, unattractive, or discolored fillings include:

  • Composite (bonding) fillings – These are tooth-colored fillings that can be closely matched to the color of your existing teeth.
  • Crowns (Caps) – A crown is a covering that encases the entire tooth surface restoring it to its original shape and size. It protects and strengthens the remaining tooth structure and can be made of gold, porcelain, and other tooth-colored materials.
  • Inlays/Onlays – These custom-made fillings can be made of composite resin, porcelain or gold and are fabricated in a dental laboratory. Inlays/onlays are usually best to conservatively repair teeth that have large defective/unattractive fillings or have been damaged by decay or trauma.
  • Porcelain veneers – Used primarily in the front teeth, veneers are very thin shells of tooth-shaped porcelain that are individually crafted and permanently cemented to the front surface of teeth. They are a great solution for fixing discolored, pitted, shipped, malformed, or slightly crooked teeth and are a very popular solution for restoring a smile impaired by old, unattractive fillings.

As you can see, there are various options for replacing old, unattractive fillings. These treatments will provide strong, natural, and long-lasting replacement solutions to enhance the health and beauty of your smile.

Q: What does heart disease and other medical conditions have to do with periodontal (gum) disease?

A: Many people are unaware that having periodontal disease (the destruction of gum tissue and bone that hold our teeth in place) can affect your overall health. Periodontal disease is one of the most common infections, often more prevalent than the common cold! Periodontal disease is not only the number one reason people lose teeth, it can also affect the health of your body.

Periodontal disease is a bacterial infection, and in its earliest stages it’s called gingivitis. It starts when an accumulation of plaque (a colony of bacteria, food debris, and saliva) is not regularly removed from the gums and teeth. The bacteria in plaque produce acids that irritate and infect the gums and eventually destroy the jaw bone that supports the teeth. When periodontal disease is not treated it can eventually lead to tooth loss.

There are numerous studies that have looked into the correlation between gum disease and major medical conditions. These studies suggest people with periodontal disease are at a greater risk of systemic disease, and they indicate that periodontal disease may cause oral bacteria to enter the bloodstream and travel to major organs and begin new infections. Research suggests that periodontal bacteria in the bloodstream may:

  • Contribute to the development of heart disease
  • Increase the risk of stroke
  • Compromise the health of patients with diabetes or respiratory diseases
  • Increase a woman’s risk of having a preterm, low-birth weight baby

Researchers conclude that there is still much research to be done to understand the link between periodontal disease and systemic diseases, but enough studies have been conducted to support the conclusion that infections in the mouth can play havoc elsewhere in the body.

To ensure a healthy, disease-free mouth, we recommend the regular dental check-ups and cleanings, including a periodontal evaluation. Also, diligent home care and a proper diet can help reduce the plaque and bacteria in the mouth.

Remember the mouth body connection…taking care of your oral health may contribute to your overall medical health.

Q: When are sealants recommended?

A: Although thorough brushing and flossing remove most food particles and bacteria from easy-to-reach tooth surfaces, they do not reach the deep grooves on chewing surfaces of teeth. More than 75% of dental decay begins in these deep grooves (called pits and fissures). Toothbrush bristles are too large to clean most of these areas. This is where sealants play an important role.

A sealant is a thin plastic coating that covers and protects the chewing surfaces of molars, premolars, and any deep grooves or pits on teeth. Sealant material forms a protective, smooth barrier that covers the natural depressions and grooves in your teeth, making it much easier to clean and help keep these areas free of decay.

Who may need sealants?

  • Children and teenagers – As soon as the six-year molars (the first permanent back teeth) appear or any time throughout the cavity-prone years of 6-16.
  • Infants – Baby teeth are occasionally sealed if they have deep grooves and the child is prone to cavities.
  • Adults – Tooth surfaces without decay that have deep grooves or depressions and are difficult to clean.

Sealants are easily applied, and the process only takes minutes per tooth. After the chewing surfaces are roughened with an acid solution that helps the sealant adhere to the tooth, the sealant material is “painted” onto the tooth surface, where it hardens and bonds to the teeth. Sometimes a special light is used to help the sealant material harden.

After sealant treatment, it’s important to avoid chewing on ice cubes, hard candy, popcorn kernels, or any hard or sticky foods. Your sealants will be checked for wear and chipping at your regular dental check-up.

Combined with good home care, a proper diet, and regular dental check-ups, sealants are very effective in helping to prevent tooth decay.

Q: What should I do if a tooth is knocked out?

A: We’re all at risk for having a tooth knocked out. More than 5 million teeth are knocked out every year! If we know how to handle this emergency situation, we may be able to actually save the tooth. Teeth that are knocked out may possibly be reimplanted if we act quickly—yet calmly—and follow these simple steps:

  1. Locate the tooth and handle it only by the crown (chewing part of the tooth), NOT by the roots.
  2. DO NOT scrub or use soap or chemicals to clean the tooth. If it has dirt or debris on it, rinse it gently with your own saliva or whole milk. If that is not possible, rinse it very gently with water.
  3. Get to a dentist within 30 minutes. The longer you wait, the less chance there is for successful reimplantation.

Ways to transport the tooth:

  • Try to place the tooth back in its socket immediately. Gently bite down on gauze, a wet tea bag or on your own teeth to keep the tooth in place. Apply a cold compress to the mouth for pain and swelling as needed.
  • If the tooth cannot be placed back into the socket, place the tooth in a container and cover with a small amount of your saliva or whole milk. You can also place the tooth under your tongue or between your lower lip and gums. Keep the tooth moist at all times. Do not transport the tooth in a tissue or cloth.
  • Consider buying a “Save-A-Tooth” storage container and keeping it as part of your home first aid kit. The kit is available in many pharmacies and contains a travel case and fluid solution for easy tooth transport.

The sooner the tooth is replaced back into the socket, the greater the likelihood it has to survive and possibly last for many more years. So be prepared, and remember these simple steps for saving a knocked-out tooth.

You can prevent broken or knocked-out teeth by:

  • Wearing a mouthguard when playing sports
  • Always wearing your seatbelt
  • Avoiding fights
  • Avoiding chewing hard items such as ice, popcorn kernels, pens, etc.