We've compiled a list below of the most common dental related questions. Click on the questions below to view their respective answers.  If you have a concern not addressed here please let us know. We are always looking to improve our Q&A and make it more helpful.

Additional online resources for answering your dental questions, may be found at:

www.MouthHealthy.org

WebMD

Routine Care

What is plaque and why is it bad?

Plaque is a clear sticky film of bacteria that 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.

Are electric toothbrushes better than manual brushes?

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.

Why should I have my teeth cleaned twice a year?

Ideally, everyone would brush and floss twice a day. Plaque builds up over time and bacterial film can 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.

How do whitening toothpastes work and how effective are they?

Some whitening toothpastes contain gentle polishing or chemical agents that provide additional stain removal. Whitening toothpastes can help remove surface stains only. Whitening toothpastes can lighten your tooth's color by about one shade. Light-activated whitening conducted in your dentist's office can make your teeth three to eight shades lighter.

For Pregnant Moms and Children

I'm pregnant, and my gums are more sensitive and bleed more easily. Why?

Changing hormone levels during pregnancy can cause normal, healthy gums to become red, irritated and swollen.

It is very important to stay current with your regular dental cleanings and exams to ensure that dental infections don’t get missed and lead to greater problems down the road. Although dentists will typically postpone major treatment until after the baby is born, emergencies do come up and need to be addressed.

When will my child get his first tooth?

Average time for the appearance of the first teeth is between five and seven months of age, there is a wide range before and after this that can still be considered “normal.”

My child’s baby teeth have cavities. Why should they be filled if they’re just going to fall out in a few years?

If baby teeth become diseased or decayed it can lead to pain and infection. It can also be difficult for children to eat a well-balanced meal with a mouth full of cavities. Untreated cavities also increase the amount of decay causing bacteria in the mouth. As permanent teeth erupt, they are at increased risk for developing cavities because of the higher bacteria count.

Baby teeth also hold space in the mouth for the erupting permanent teeth. If the baby teeth become decayed or are taken out too early, the permanent teeth often become crowded and will likely need braces to straighten in the future.

What are sealants and why are they done?

Sealants are thin coatings applied to the biting surfaces that help prevent bacteria and other debris from getting into the deep crevices on the teeth.

Fillings, X-Rays, and Other Procedures

How safe are dental X-rays?

Advances in dentistry over the years have led to the low radiation levels emitted by dental X-rays. Some of the improvements are new digital X-ray machines that limit the radiation beam to the small area being X-rayed, higher speed X-ray films that require shorter exposure time compared with older film speeds to get the same results, and the use of film holders that keep the film in place in the mouth (which prevents the film from slipping and the need for repeat X-rays and additional radiation exposure). Also, the use of lead-lined, full-body aprons protects the body from stray radiation

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.

What is a root canal?

A Root Canal 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.

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.

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.

What are dental sealants, who should get them, and how long do they last?

Sealants are a thin, plastic coating that is painted on the chewing surfaces of teeth-- usually the back teeth (the premolars, and molars) -- to prevent tooth decay. The painted on liquid sealant quickly bonds into the depressions and groves of the teeth, forming a protective shield over the enamel of each tooth.

Typically, children should get sealants on their permanent molars and premolars as soon as these teeth come in. In this way, the dental sealants can protect the teeth through the cavity-prone years of ages 6 to 14. However, adults without decay or fillings in their molars can also benefit from sealants.

Sealants can protect the teeth from decay for many years, but they need to be checked for chipping or wear at regular dental check-ups.

Dental Emergencies

What if a tooth gets knocked out in an accident?

Time is your enemy when an accident or any trauma dislodges a tooth. First locate the tooth, or teeth, and determine if the tooth broke or if the entire tooth and root came out in one piece. Gather together the pieces you’ve found, and with warm water gently rinse off obvious dirt or debris.  Avoid touching the root as much as possible.  Place and transport the tooth in milk or in some of the person’s own saliva.

Rush the injured person and tooth to the dental office. Ideally the tooth will be re-implanted. The tooth may also be splinted with a wire to the adjacent teeth for a period of time.

This is a true dental emergency. If it is after regular business hours you should still call Dr. Swanson. The more time that goes by the less likely that the re-implantation will be successful. If you cannot contact us your nearest Urgent Care or Emergency Room may be able to help.

What should I do if I have a dental emergency and can't get a hold of a dentist?

If you’re unable to get ahold of our office or are travelling out of town, check the internet or yellow pages for a dentist or urgent care nearby.  If you can’t reach any dentist, here are some helpful tips:

Toothache:
Rinse your mouth with warm salt water. Gently brush and floss the area to remove any trapped food or debris. If you can take over the counter pain medications (such as Ibuprofen) they may help in soothing the pain. Topical gels (such as Orajel) can sometimes help, but usually only a little bit and for a minimal amount of time.

*To make salt water rinse: mix 1 teaspoon table salt with 1 cup warm water*

Broken Filling or Broken Tooth:
Most pharmacies carry temporary filling materials that can be placed over the sensitive area until you see your dentist.  Sugar-free chewing gum can also be used to cover the area as a last resort.

Medical Questions

Are there any dental problems that are associated with diabetes?

Infections and other problems such as receding gums and periodontal disease are common afflictions among diabetics. Diabetes impairs the body’s ability to fight off infections, decreases blood flow and circulation to gum tissue, and in many cases elevates the sugar levels within the oral cavity. These factors tend to promote gum disease and tooth decay.

Good oral hygiene, proper brushing, regular flossing, and healthy glucose levels will go a long way in preventing diabetic-related dental problems.

Dentures

Why don't my dentures seem to fit anymore?

If you’ve had your dentures for more than 3-5 years it’s possible that they actually don’t fit anymore.

The bone of the mouth holds and supports the teeth. And, teeth of the mouth also support the bone. When the teeth are removed the bone loses the support once provided by the teeth. This may cause atrophy (shrinkage). As a result, dentures that were made to fit your mouth several years ago no longer fit.

Resources