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Frequently Asked Questions

Common Dental Hygiene Procedures Performed at the Dentist

The dental hygienist acts as the dentist’s nurse. She does many of the information gathering tasks such as taking x-rays, performing a patient history, and examining the mouth for common oral diseases. It’s the dentist’s job to interpret these findings, formulate a plan of treatment, consult with the patient, and carry out the treatment (or assign a qualified professional to complete portions of the treatment).

When visiting the dental hygienist, you will likely start with a few information-gathering questions. This is the time to relay any tooth pain, problems, or questions you have about your dental care. Be sure to tell the hygienist if you have any allergies to medications, or a sensitivity or allergy to latex, as this can significantly affect your care and your plan of treatment.

Next, the hygienist will take x-rays of your mouth, if ordered by your dentist. Like other x-rays, this procedure is painless and does not take long. The hygienist may leave the room for a few minutes, but will return shortly to continue your exam.

Next, the dental hygienist will clean your teeth. Using an abrasive solution, the plaques and debris built up on your teeth are removed with a tool. This procedure is gentle and painless, and you may even get to choose a flavored solution for your cleaning. You’ll get your teeth flossed and have an opportunity to rinse out your mouth when the cleaning is complete.

Next, your dental hygienist will examine your teeth and mouth for problem areas and common dental diseases. He or she will make notes in your chart for the dentist to read.

If ordered, the dental hygienist may apply a fluoride treatment to help strengthen the enamel of your teeth. This takes a few minutes, and the hygienist may choose to leave the room during this time.

Once the cleaning and exam portions of your visit are complete, the dentist will come in and review your x-rays with you. He or she will also perform an exam of your mouth, and discuss possible plans of treatment for your condition. Depending on the dentist, he or she may chose to floss your teeth, or perform other aspects of the exam usually done by the hygienist. He or she may also check your bite pattern and jaw alignment for signs of problems or disease.

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How safe are dental X-rays?

Exposure to all sources of radiation -- including the sun, minerals in the soil, appliances in your home, and dental X-rays -- can damage the body's tissues and cells and lead to the development of cancer. Fortunately, the dose of radiation you are exposed to during the taking of X-rays is extremely small.

Advances in dentistry over the years have lead 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 (though this is almost nonexistent with the modern dental X-ray machines.) In addition, federal law requires that X-ray machines be checked for accuracy and safety every two years, with some states requiring more frequent checks.

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How do whitening toothpastes work and how effective are they?

All toothpastes help remove surface stains through the action of mild abrasives. Some whitening toothpastes contain gentle polishing or chemical agents that provide additional stain removal. Whitening toothpastes can help remove surface stains only and do not contain bleach; over-the-counter and professional whitening products contain hydrogen peroxide (a bleaching substance) that helps remove stains on the tooth surface as well as stains deep in the tooth. None of the home use whitening toothpastes can come even close to producing the bleaching effect you get from your dentist's office through chair-side bleaching or power bleaching. Whitening toothpastes can lighten your tooth's color by about one shade. In contrast, light-activated whitening conducted in your dentist's office can make your teeth three to eight shades lighter.

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I'm interested in changing the shape of my teeth. What options are available?

Several different options are available to change the shape of teeth, make teeth look longer, close spaces between teeth or repair chipped or cracked teeth. Among the options are bonding, crowns, veneers, and recontouring.

Dental bonding is a procedure in which a tooth-colored resin material (a durable plastic material) is applied to the tooth surface and hardened with a special light, which ultimately "bonds" the material to the tooth.
Dental crowns are tooth-shaped "caps" that are placed over teeth. The crowns, when cemented into place, fully encase the entire visible portion of a tooth that lies at and above the gum line.
Veneers (also sometimes called porcelain veneers or dental porcelain laminates) are wafer-thin, custom-made shells of tooth-colored materials that are designed to cover the front surface of teeth. These shells are bonded to the front of the teeth.
Recontouring or reshaping of the teeth (also called odontoplasty, enameloplasty, stripping, or slenderizing) is a procedure in which small amounts of tooth enamel are removed to change a tooth's length, shape or surface.

Each of these options differ with regard to cost, durability, "chair time" necessary to complete the procedure, stain resistant qualities, and best cosmetic approach to resolving a specific problem. Contact us for more information about selecting the right option for yourself.

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Why should I go to the dentist regularly? (crisis treatment vs. preventive treatment)

Many people do not see a dentist on a regular basis. They go only when they have a problem. We call this “crisis treatment” as opposed to “preventive treatment.” While these patients may feel they are saving money, it usually ends up costing much more in both dollars and time. The reason for this is that most dental problems do not have any symptoms until they reach the advanced stages of the disease process. A simple example is tooth decay. We often hear, “Nothing hurts…I don’t have any problems.”

But tooth decay does not hurt! Until, that is, it gets close to the nerve of the tooth. By that time, root canal treatment followed by a post, buildup, and crown are often necessary, instead of the filling which could have been placed several years earlier when the cavity was just beginning to form. Your dentist can usually detect a cavity 3-4 years before it develops any symptoms. It is not uncommon to see a patient with a huge cavity and who has never felt a thing! This is why regular checkups are important – so why not schedule yours today?

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Why should I floss, isn’t brushing enough?

You should floss to reduce the number of bacteria in your mouth. There are millions of these microscopic creatures feeding on food particles left on your teeth. This bacteria lives in plaque which can be removed by flossing. Brushing your teeth gets rid of some of the bacteria in your mouth. Flossing gets rid of the bacteria your toothbrush can’t get to. That’s the bacteria hiding in the tiny spaces between your teeth. Brushing without flossing is like washing only half your face. The other half remains dirty.

If you do not floss, you allow plaque to remain between your teeth. Eventually it hardens into tartar. Plaque can be removed by brushing. Only your dentist can remove tartar.

Ask us to show you the proper way to floss. You will both notice the difference at your next cleaning appointment.

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What is fluoride and why is it important to dental health?

Fluoride is a mineral that occurs naturally in many foods and in water. Some natural sources of fluoride are brewed tea, canned fish, cooked kale and spinach, apples, and skim milk. Some city water contains fluoride, so by drinking tap water you will acquire fluoride. If your drinking water does not have fluoride, supplements are available.

The lack of exposure to fluoride places individuals of any age at risk for dental decay. Fluoride is important to dental health because it helps prevent tooth decay by making the enamel outer portion of the tooth more resistant to acid attacks from plaque bacteria in the mouth.

Studies have shown that children who consumed fluoridated water from birth had less dental decay. Fluoride can reverse early decay and help prevent osteoporosis, a disease that causes degenerative bone loss.

Talk to your dentist or dental hygienist about whether you’re getting the daily amount of fluoride you need.

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