Q: Why do regular dental visits matter?
A: Regular dental visits are important because they can help spot oral health problems early on when treatment is likely to be simpler and more affordable. They also help prevent many oral problems from developing in the first place. Visiting your dentist regularly is also important because some diseases or medical conditions have symptoms that can appear in the mouth.
Q: When should I schedule my child for his or her first dental visit?
A: The American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Academy of Dentistry both recommend a child has his or her first dental visit by the first birthday. Baby teeth matter. Those teeth will be there until the child is 9 or 10 years old and tooth decay can cause pain, infection, and in very rare and extreme cases death. The main purpose of the first visit is to create a good early dental experience and educate the parent on ways to prevent cavities and expensive treatments in the future.
Q: What is a cavity?
A: The word cavity just means hole. A cavity in a tooth is usually caused caries or decay. A certain type of bacteria (mainly Streptococcus Mutans) causes the decay because it is found the plaque on your teeth. The plaque sticks to the tooth and cannot simply be washed away. It is the main reason that we recommend brushing your teeth for two minutes twice a day. There are certain things that we can do early on to help prevent or reverse the start of early (incipient) cavities, but once they get to a certain point, only seeing the dentist for a filling will take care of the caries or decay. The decay is actually a contagious disease process that can spread from tooth to tooth and from person to person like a cold.
Q: What is the root canal and why would I have to have one?
A: When a cavity gets so big that the decay goes into the nerve of the tooth the tooth usually has to have a root canal or be extracted. A root canal means that the nerve inside the tooth is dead or dying and may be infected. Your dentist or a specialist is able to clean the canals out and essentially place a filling inside the roots of the tooth. Pain is usually a very late, bad sign. A lot can be done before it gets to this point. It is best to visit your dentist regularly when small things can be caught and treated.
Q: I have heard that root canals don’t work. Is that true?
A: There are a lot of factors that go into whether a root canal is successful, but one of the most common reason for people feeling that they do not work is because a back tooth becomes more brittle after a root canal. A crown is usually recommended to protect it and is a separate procedure with an additional cost. If that is not done, it is not a matter of if the tooth will break, but when it will break and often people are upset because they have invested money in the root canal and then still have to have it extracted at a later date. Not all front teeth have to have a crown, and a broken tooth is not the only complication of a root canal. Your dentist will go over the possible risks and benefits with you prior to the procedure so that you can make an informed decision on your treatment.
Q: If I have a denture (plate), do I need to ever see a dentist again?
A: Yes, it is still recommended that you see your dentist every year even if you have full dentures. There are a lot of things in your mouth besides the teeth. Your dentist can perform an oral cancer screening and check the fit of your dentures. A pair of dentures is like a shoe that can cause blisters. Over time the shape of the bone changes and the dentures become loose or ill-fitting. A denture may need to be relined or even remade as time passes. Getting a denture is not a one-time event. It is not unlikely that a denture would need to be remade every 10 years or so.
Q: Why do I have to take my denture out at night?
A: Most people have a type of fungus in their mouth naturally (candida albicans) and if there is a dark damp place for it to grow, like under a denture, it will, and you can get a fungal infection in your mouth. We recommend that you remove your denture for 8 hours every day to allow the tissue to breathe and the easiest way to do that is while you are sleeping. Be sure to keep your denture or partial wet when out of your mouth because they can change shape when they dry out.
Q: What does it mean if I have gum disease?
A: Your tooth is like your fingernail. Just like there is a space between your fingernail and finger, there is a space between your tooth and the gums. We measure that space and if it stays 1-3 mm deep then you can easily clean that with flossing. You want the floss to gently disappear into the space as you are flossing, and since flossing is not something usually taught in schools, we are happy to demonstrate to any and all patients what we mean when you visit for an appointment. Do not hesitate to ask. Food and bacteria can get trapped in those spaces and if not cleaned out with flossing regularly, over time can cause the gums to get inflamed. The first sign of inflammation is bleeding, so if you see pink in the sink when you brush your teeth, you may have either gingivitis (swollen gums) or gum disease (periodontal disease where bone loss starts to occur). Do not stop brushing and flossing, but do see your dentist. It is funny how if your hands bled every time that you washed them, you would be worried, but people often do not think twice about their gums bleeding when they brush them.
Q: What is a crown and why does it cost so much?
A: A crown is like a cap for the tooth that can often protect it from breaking or help save the tooth once a filling becomes too big and cannot be used. The dentist essentially needs to get the tooth ready for the crown by making it in the shape of a top hat more or less. An impression is then made that is sent to the lab for them to make a crown to fit your tooth only. It usually has metal and/or porcelain. There is a fee associated with the fabrication of the crown and the materials. It is a longer procedure that requires multiple visits. The cost of the crown, materials, and time all affect the need for the cost of the crown to be higher than a simple filling.
Q: What is a dry socket and why does it hurt so much?
A: A dry socket is when the clot that forms after a tooth is extracted is lost. It results in exposed bone and no where on your body do you have exposed bone, so it just hurts. It usually happens three to five days after an extraction and is not an infection, but your dentist or oral surgeon can help you get through it as it heals if you return to them. Things that may place you at higher risk are smoking, sucking through straws, rinsing and spitting too early (you can start rinsing gently with warm salt water the following night after an extraction).