Common Dental Health Questions

  1. Are dental x-rays safe?

Exposure to any source of radiation isn’t ideal, but fortunately the dose of radiation you get from taking x-rays is extremely small.  You can thank the wonderful engineers and scientists in the dental industry for that.  New, digital x-ray machines limit the beam of radiation to just the small area being x-rayed, higher speed x-ray films require shorter exposure time, film holders keep the film in your mouth from slipping and avoiding repeat x-rays, and full-body aprons protect the body from stray radiation.  Federal law requires x-ray machines to be checked for accuracy and safety every two years, and some states even increase the frequency of checks.

  1. What can you tell me about dental sealants?

Dental sealants are a thin, plastic coating that covers the chewing surfaces of the teeth to fill in fissures and grooves.  Because these are the hardest areas to reach, bacteria tend to live here and cause cavities and decay.

Sealants are becoming a go-to solution for kids who have even more trouble brushing the hard-to-reach areas, such as their molars.  However, sealants work for adults too.

Typically, they protect teeth for up to 10 years but should be checked regularly for chipping and excessive wear.

  1. How close are we to drill-less dentistry?

Also known as air abrasion and microabrasion, drill-less dentistry can remove tooth decay, remold old composite restorations, prepare a tooth surface for bonding or sealants, and remove superficial stains and discolorations.  Air abrasion works put shooting a fine stream of particles at the tooth surface to clean away decay and stain, much like a mini sandblaster works.  Remaining particles can then be suctioned away.

  1. Are silver-colored fillings, or amalgams, safe?

Amalgams contain mercury, leading many people to think that they are causing a number of diseases, including autism, Alzheimer’s, and multiple sclerosis.

The American Dental Association (ADA) and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), as well as numerous public health agencies, have confirmed multiple times that amalgams are safe and that there is no link between the fillings and these diseases.  Although mercury is toxic on its own, when mixed with other metals such as silver, copper, tin, and zinc, they form a stable alloy that dentists have actually used for over 100 years.

  1. What is the most effective way to whiten my teeth?

ALL toothpastes help to remove surface stains with the help of mild abrasives.  Whitening toothpastes, however, contain gentle polishing or chemical agents that provide additional removal.  Most over-the-counter whitening toothpastes contain peroxide – either carbamide or hydrogen.

The difference between whitening methods is due to the percent of peroxide.  Store-bought solutions, such as strips, trays, and toothpastes, typically contain a maximum of 7% peroxide, while whiteners that a dentist uses contain up to 45% peroxide. Just one hour in the dentist’s chair can result in a dazzling smile, while at-home treatments kick in about 4-6 weeks later.

Both ways work well, but the biggest discrepancy comes with the costs.  Chair-side treatments will costs around $500, while store-bought kits range from $25 to $100.

  1. How can I change the shape of my teeth?

There are several different options to change the shape, close gaps, or repair chipped teeth.

  • Dental bonding applies a tooth-colored resin to the tooth surface and bonds it to the tooth with a special light.
  • Dental crowns are tooth-shaped caps that are placed over teeth to fully cover the entire visible portion of the tooth.
  • Veneers are extremely thin, custom-made shells that cover the front surface of your teeth.
  • Reshaping your teeth (also called odontoplasty, enameloplasty, stripping, or slenderizing) removes small amounts of tooth enamel to change the length, shape, or surface.
  1. I have a terrible fear of the dentist. How can I overcome this?

You’re not alone.  Between 5% and 8% of Americans avoid the dentist completely out of fear, and almost 20% will only schedule an appointment if it’s absolutely necessary.

The first step is talking to your dentist.  Many dentists assume that all patients have the same level of fear and pain tolerance.  Alerting them that yours might be a special case will allow them to take special consideration.

Other solutions include medications, use of lasers instead of drills, and anxiety-reducing techniques such as guided imagery, biofeedback, deep breathing, acupuncture, and other mental health therapies.

  1. How do I know which toothpaste my child should use?

There are a couple rules of thumb here, and the answer is a little tricky.  It really depends on the age of your child.  Fluoride is an important mineral proven to prevent cavities. However, swallowed in large doses, fluoride can be toxic.  Once your child learns to spit and not swallow the toothpaste, you can transition them to using toothpaste containing fluoride.

The American Dental Association also grants their Seal of Acceptance to certain products that meet their criteria for safety and effectiveness.  When in doubt, pick toothpaste with the ADA seal.  They’ll do all of the research and work for you.

  1. I can’t afford regular dental care. Are there some resources available to me?

Yes, there are thousands of dentists across the US that offer their services at a reduced rate or free of charge through dental society sponsored assistance programs. Contact your local dental society for more information about where you can find the nearest assistance programs (such as public health clinics and dental school clinics).

The ADA’s website also links to state dental associations and dental schools.

  1. I recently moved and need to find a new dentist. How can I find one?

Over 80% of people rely on recommendations from friends and family to find a new dentist.  If you’re moving nearby, your current dentist may be able to make a recommendation as well.