Frequently Asked Questions
During cleanings, plaque and calculus (more commonly known as tartar) are removed from teeth. Plaque is a sticky deposit on teeth in which bacteria grow, and tartar is basically calcified or hardened plaque, so it is more difficult to remove. When tartar builds up under the gumline, causing gum disease, more extensive treatment than a standard cleaning is needed to remove it and help ensure healthier gums. Hygienists also polish teeth, floss (partly to test the condition of gums, to see if they bleed), and they document any bleeding along with stains they noted during the cleaning in a patient’s file.
Dental exams with a dentist make it so problems can be diagnosed and treated before they grow to be big, often painful and expensive. A typical exam with Dr. Lau includes a visual assessment of teeth and occlusion (bite), along with an appraisal of current restorations. When X-rays have been taken, the dentist will carefully review them to identify areas of decay and other possible areas of concern for cysts, tumors, and other disorders of the mouth. Panoramic X-rays are especially revealing and beneficial to this process. Dr. Lau will perform a general screening for early detection of gum disease and oral cancer, as well.
In between cleanings and exams at a dental office, brushing teeth at least twice a day (in the morning and at night) is the most important thing you can do to take care of your teeth. Brushing after every meal is even better, if you can. If not, chewing sugar-free gum after meals can get food particles out of teeth. Additionally, clean between teeth daily with floss or interdental cleaners, and remember to brush your tongue. Brushing your tongue, especially the back areas, can make a big difference in how clean your mouth feels and smells, and how clean it actually is. Restorations, such as bridges and partial dentures, should be cleaned thoroughly, too, just like natural teeth. Toothbrushes should be replaced every two to three months.
Though not the first suspect in a simple case of bleeding gums, oral cancer is also a possibility. Oral cancer can be difficult to diagnose because many of its symptoms are associated with other medical conditions. They include sores, difficulty swallowing or moving the jaw, bleeding gums or cheeks, and a continuous pain in the mouth. If Dr. Lau finds no other causes for your bleeding gums, he may recommend a visit to a specialist.
Regular check-ups are vital to cancer prevention, as are good oral hygiene, avoiding tobacco, and maintaining a balanced diet. Inform your dentist if you’re experiencing any of the above symptoms. You’d go to the doctor if a cut on your hand were infected—do your gums the same service! They’ll thank you later.
Silver fillings are durable, lasting on average at least 10 to 20 years, and they are very strong, making them ideal for use in the large back molars. They also tend to be less expensive than composite fillings, but usually require more invasive preparations. The biggest drawback to silver fillings is aesthetic, as they can cast a gray hue over the surface of a tooth. Silver fillings have gotten a bad reputation because of their mercury content, but the FDA and the ADA agree that there’s no proof that the compound has any adverse side effects. In fact, the mercury in amalgam fillings is only one component of a chemically stable alloy. Silver fillings have been used in dentistry for hundreds of years, and allergic reactions are rare.
Composite fillings, made out of a mixture of glass and quartz materials, provide a tooth-colored restoration that looks more like your natural tooth. Composite materials are also versatile and can be bonded (held adhesively) to teeth, which calls for less invasive preparation and leaves more healthy tooth structure beneath the filling. Compared to amalgam, composite fillings are slightly less durable and are better suited for teeth with light or moderate bite pressure, and they can take longer to place. Depending on your dentist and your insurance options, composite fillings can cost a bit more than amalgam.
Unless Dr. Lau notices cracks or damages in your current fillings or expresses other concerns regarding your dental health, replacing silver fillings is a matter of personal preference.
As far as safety goes, numerous studies have examined the effects of whitening and bleaching methods. Some products, including certain whitening toothpastes and take-home kits available through your dentist, have been evaluated and approved by the American Dental Association (ADA). While having the ADA seal of acceptance is a good sign, many safe and effective products don’t have an ADA seal simply because their manufacturers did not seek one. Bleaching is not recommended for children under 16, as their teeth are still developing, and is also not recommended for women who are pregnant.
The most common side effects of teeth-whitening—both the in-office and take-home varieties—are teeth and gum sensitivity. This sensitivity is usually temporary, and should subside soon after you’ve stopped using the product.
Children with newly-erupted permanent teeth benefit a great deal from fluoride exposure, but adults should make sure their teeth come into contact with it, too. The safe and easy way to ensure your teeth are getting enough fluoride is to use fluoride toothpaste, available at drugstores in a variety of types and flavors. If Dr. Lau recommends more intense fluoride treatments, there are a number of gels, rinses, or even in-office procedures that can do the trick. Though the most fluoride is absorbed from direct contact with the teeth, many public drinking water systems contain small, safe amounts of fluoride that can have positive health effects.
Toothache/Sore Gums. Rinse with warm water to remove any food or debris; if you notice anything lodged between teeth, floss to remove it. Take an over the counter pain medication (but never apply the medication directly to tooth or gums), and call Meadowbrook Family Dental if the pain persists.
Chipped Tooth. Save the pieces, if you can, and rinse them thoroughly. Apply an ice pack or a cold compress to the swollen lip or gum tissue near the chipped tooth to prevent swelling. If the area is bleeding, apply gauze for ten minutes, or until the bleeding has stopped. See your dentist as soon as possible.
Broken Tooth. With recent advancements in restorative and cosmetic dentistry, you might not lose your tooth. If there’s enough remaining healthy tooth structure, a dentist can create a crown that will “grab onto” your natural tooth, eliminating the need for root removal. While the success of this process, known as “crown lengthening,” depends on the severity of the break, it’s worth asking about options other than complete removal.
Knocked Out Tooth. Depending on the situation, find the tooth and, holding it by the crown only, rinse it briefly with warm water. If possible, gently reinsert the tooth into the socket and bite down on gauze or cloth to keep it in place. If you cannot reinsert it, place it in a container of milk or salt-water. See your dentist as soon as possible—if treated within 2 hours, the tooth may be salvaged.
Soft Tissue Injuries. Soft tissues such as gums, cheeks, lips, and the tongue tend to bleed heavily, only because the tissue contains a great deal of blood flow. To control the bleeding, first rinse with a warm, mild salt water solution. Apply pressure with gauze or a moistened towel for 15 to 20 minutes. Afterwards, to reduce swelling and help stop residual bleeding, apply a cold compress to the outside of your mouth. In the event of a serious soft tissue injury, in which the bleeding is profuse or the damage is visibly traumatic, it’s best to stay calm, keep applying pressure, and go to the emergency room.
As most people know, foods high in sugar tend to stick to teeth and can lead to decay. What many people don’t know is that almost all foods contain some form of sugar—even milk products and fruit—so you can’t cut it out completely, and you wouldn’t want to. The most important part of the “dentist diet” is brushing your teeth after each meal. If you do snack between meals, especially on starchy or sweet foods, and cannot brush, drink plenty of water or chew gum to loosen any residue. For those of us out there with a sweet tooth, don’t despair: not all sweet snacks are off-limits. Chewing sugar-free gum that contains xylitol can actually prevent cavities.