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Frequently Asked Questions

 What is Plaque?
Plaque is the accumulation of bacteria, microorganisms and their products which sticks to the tooth surfaces. Dental plaque is soft and easily removed by brushing and flossing the teeth. Accumulation of plaque can lead to gum disease (gingivitis) and periodontal disease, as well as tooth decay.

What is Calculus (Tartar)?
Calculus is dental plaque that has mineralized. Calculus can form when plaque is not removed from the tooth surfaces. This plaque becomes old and eventually forms into calculus. Calculus can form above or below the gumline. The bacteria that sticks to calculus can cause gum disease (gingivitis) or periodontal disease. Calculus cannot be removed by brushing and flossing. A dental hygienist checks for calculus formation when you visit the dental office. It is removed with special instruments designed to adapt to the tooth surface affected without causing trauma to the soft gums.

What is Gingivitis?
Gingivitis is inflammation of the gums. Some common features associated with gingivitis are red and swollen gums, and the presence of bleeding while brushing and flossing. The cause of gingivitis is the bacteria in dental plaque. This disease is reversible with good oral hygiene practices.

What is Periodontal Disease?
Periodontal disease affects the periodontium (the supporting structures of the teeth). The cause of this disease is multifactorial, but the presence of bacteria in plaque certainly plays a major role. The supporting periodontal structures begin to breakdown. This can mean that part of the bone that supports the teeth or the ligaments that hold the teeth securely in place are destroyed. This disease process is generally not reversible and may require treatment from a dental professional specializing in periodontal disease. Periodontal disease can develop as a result of poor daily plaque control (e.g. brushing and flossing). However, not everyone with poor brushing and flossing techniques will develop this condition. It is wise to visit your dental hygienist or dentist regularly in order to detect early stages of the disease and to prevent further damage.

What is a Cavity?
A cavity is the destruction of the tooth enamel, dentin, cementum and may involve the tooth pulp.

How does a Cavity Form?
The formation of a cavity is due to many factors. For example, the tooth itself plays a role (how strong it is); the mouths ability to cleanse itself (your flow of saliva); diet (frequency and selection of sugary foods); the bacteria in your mouth (good or bad); and the length of time the tooth is under attack by the bacteria in your mouth.

may play a major role in how susceptible you are to the formation of a cavity, for example:

  • tooth structure, size and shape of the tooth may be passed down through generations. This includes deep pits and grooves which are ideal "plaque traps", and therefore, are susceptible to decay
  • there may be a higher risk of cavities forming if your parents also had a large number of cavities
  • teeth that are malpositioned in the mouth, that are hard to access with your toothbrush or floss may also provide an ideal breeding ground for the bacterial dental plaque.
  • the absence of fluoride during tooth formation and following tooth eruption can increase the incidence of cavities. fluoride promotes strong tooth development and remineralization of the tooth
 has a protective function in the mouth, for example:
  • a good flow of saliva washes away food and bacteria that sit on the teeth and gum tissues
  • salivary flow helps to neutralize the acids produced by bacteria from plaque, thus a good flow helps reduce the chances of a cavity formation
a well balanced diet from each of the four major food groups is essential for your oral health, as well as, your overall health.
  • avoid frequent consumption of high sugar foods, especially sticky foods
  • the longer the time the food stays on your teeth, the greater the chance of forming a cavity. If you do have a sugary snack, it's best to brush your teeth soon after
  • select between meal snacks that are low in sugar concentrations such as white milk, fresh fruits, raw vegetables, dark breads and whole grain and enriched cereals
  • sugar free candies, gum and other snacks are an option
 the actual amount of sugar eaten in one sitting is not as important as when and how often you choose a sugar containing food.
  • the consumption of high sugar foods is best if eaten with a regular meal. This will confine the sugar exposure to one sitting. It's best to eat the whole chocolate bar at once instead of at different periods throughout the day

the mouth harbors many types of bacteria that are considered to be normal in the human mouth.

  • bacteria, in a healthy mouth tends to live in balance, but for reasons yet to be truly identified, that balance can be tilted and oral disease may result

fluoride provides many benefits. It is found in many products such as toothpaste, mouthrinse, fluoridated drinking water and periodic topical fluoride treatments applied by your dental professional.

  • it aids in the development of sound enamel
  • it helps reduce enamel solubility and increases enamel resistance to acid attack
  • it prevents demineralization (the white spot phase of the beginning stages of a cavity)
  • it enhances remineralization of beginning stages of a cavity. Fluoride may arrest further development of a cavity by depositing the fluoride mineral called fluoroapatite
Fluoride used in addition to daily brushing and flossing helps to reduce the chances of a cavity.

Signs of a Cavity Formation
The first sign of a cavity forming may be a white spot, which in time may turn brown.
If it is a white spot, low concentrations of fluoride applied frequently can arrest further development.


White spot phase
If the white spot phase progresses, further breakdown of enamel will occur. At this point, a visit to your dental professional is necessary. The cavity may be restored with a filling.

Good Habits to Help Prevent Cavities

  • regular visits with your dental professional on an appointment schedule that he/she recommends based on your own needs. Regular visits will ensure you have the benefits of preventive care and early diagnosis, as well as, treatment for any dental problems. Guidance about home dental care can also be provided to avoid future problems
  • diet plays an important role. Minimize the frequency of sugary foods, thus reducing the amount of acid produced. Select snacks that are less cavity causing, such as fresh fruit, plain yogurt and raw vegetables
  • the use of fluoride will help decrease the risk of cavity formation
  • good plaque control. Maintain a strict and regular home care routine to minimize plaque growth
it is recommended that you consult your dental professional before using any commercial products. You want to make a selection based on the effectiveness of the product and your own personal needs.


Braces are put on teeth to help correct rotated teeth, too large of spaces, crowding or misalignment of teeth. Newer techniques today allow for wire frames to be worn that can spread open the arch if it is too small, or pull one side of the jaw to correct for overlap on one side only. In addition, clear brackets and brackets that can be bonded inside the teeth are making braces a good option for many adults today. 

 Composite or white plastic fillings, are used when esthetics is a concern. While the currently available materials used for composites are as strong as silver fillings on the chewing surfaces, they do excellently in the grooves, and dramatically lower the development of cavities. 

 Crowns are placed over a tooth when a large portion of the tooth is lost ot decay or has broken off. Usually when a filling is more than half of the size of the tooth, the tooth is weakened. If the filling would comprise a significant portion of the tooth, often the tooth can fracture under the stresses of chewing and therefore, placing a crown over the tooth protects the chewing surface and prevents that from happening. Crowns that are white are made of porcelain and are usually placed in areas of esthetic concern. Gold crowns might be placed in the molar region or when there is heavy grinding that might damage the opposing teeth. 

Dentures are false teeth. They are typically made from impressions (molds) that are taken of the inside of the mouth and they are made of a type of plastic or porcelain that duplicates the shape, size and function of the teeth. 

 Dental implants, simply put, are typically titanium posts that are imbedded into the jawbone and then plastic or porcelain teeth are placed over the portion of the implant that sticks out of the gums. They usually take several months to complete since the bone must fuse to the posts before any kind of pressure can be put on the implant itself. 

Nutrition and Dentistry
The more we learn about nutrition, the more that we believe that a good diet will promote a healthier lifestyle and healthier teeth. Especially if you are anticipating dental work, you might wish to increase your Vitamin C, since it aids with healing. During pregnancy, women should take extra care to eat right and brush regularly since the hormone changes can affect the susceptibility of the tissues to infection. 

Root Canals
A root canal is typically done whenever the decay or injury to the tooth invades the inner part of the tooth where the pulp is. This is where the nerve and the blood supply are located. When a root canal is done, the inner portion of the pulp is removed, along with any infection that may have invaded the inside walls of the tooth. Then a sealer material is placed with a rubbery plastic to fill the hole so that new infection can't get into the tooth. Generally, by removing the root, it can potentially weaken a tooth and therefore, it is common to protect the integrity of the tooth by placing a crown over the tooth. 
See also: Root Canal (Endodontic) Treatment

 Sealants used to be considered for children's teeth only. Now we are finding that adults too, can benefit from sealants. Sealants are plastic coatings that are placed on the etched surface in the grooves of teeth-typically on the back molars and sometimes on pre-molars. It helps prevent sugars and bacteria from getting into those deep fissures and cause decay. 

Specialties of Dentistry
 There are several recognized specialties of dentistry. Simply stated, these are the specialties:

  • Endodontics is the treatment of root canals.
  • Pedodontics is the treatment of children. 
  • Periodontics is the treatment of the gums.
  • Orthodontics is the straightening of teeth. 
  • Oral Surgery is extracting teeth and jaw surgery. 
The temporo-mandibular joint (TMJ) is a very unique and fragile joint. Because of the numbers of tendons, ligaments and muscles that are used to hold it in position, it is subject to trauma and stress. As a result, headaches, jaw soreness and and neckaches can all be related to problems related to the TMJ. Sometimes the small disc that separates the lower jawbone from the socket where it rests gets displaced and a bite splint may be used among other therapies to "reposition" the jaw into the proper alignment. 

Brushing after each meal or snack is a great way to prevent cavities. If your toothbrush is frayed at the ends, you should consider replacing it. Let your toothbrush air-dry in between uses so you don't get bacteria growing in it. Tap the water off and make sure you don't leave food or toothpaste on the brush. Never share a toothbrush with someone else and change it even more frequently if you have been sick.


Do you get headaches, especially in the morning?
Do they get worse when you are under a lot of stress?

You could be clenching and grinding your teeth while asleep. There are different therapies that can free you from this pain. The first step is to contact your dentist.


Massage your jaw joint while in a hot shower.

Do you eat sticky foods (like raisins) and drink lots of fruit juice?
Although this sounds like a healthy snack, it may mean more cavities. Raisins are high in sugar, and when they get stuck in your teeth, there is a much higher incidence of cavity formation. Fruit juice is also very high in sugar and constant consumption can be a problem. Donít be afraid to enjoy these foods and drinks; just enjoy them in moderation.

Seek dental care immediately if you have:
Pain, non-healing sores, white/red growths in your mouth, loose teeth, painful clicking in your jaw, frequent headaches (especially in the morning), bleeding gums, or if you havenít been to the dentist in more than six months.

What are cavities? How do they occur?
Cavities are a destruction of the tooth enamel. They occur when foods containing carbohydrates (sugars and starches) such as milk, pop, raisins, cakes or candy are frequently left on the teeth. Bacteria that live in the mouth thrive on these foods, producing acids as a result. Over a period of time, these acids destroy tooth enamel, resulting in cavities. This process is also called "tooth decay."

I've smoked for many years and recently noticed a white patch in my mouth should I be concerned?
Any mouth sore that persists for more than a week should be examined by your dentist. Leukoplakia is a thick, whitish-color patch that forms on the cheeks, gums or tongue and is caused by excess cell growth. It is common among tobacco users and can also result from irritations such as ill-filling dentures or a habit of chewing on one's cheek. The danger of leukoplakia is that it can progress to cancer. Your dentist may want to take a biopsy if the leukoplakia appears to be threatening.

How can I help prevent oral cancer?

Oral cancerEliminate any risk factors such as tobacco and alcohol and regularly visit your dentist. Periodic dental exams allow early detection and appropriate treatment if cancer develops. If at any time you notice any changes in the appearance of your mouth or any of these signs and symptoms, contact your dentist at once:

  • A persistent sore or irritation that does not heal
  • Color changes such as the development of red and/or white lesions
  • Pain, tenderness or numbness anywhere in the mouth or lips
  • A lump, thickening, rough spot, crust or small eroded area
  • Difficulty in chewing, swallowing, speaking or moving the jaw or tongue
  • Change in bite


What's the difference between a canker sore and a cold sore?
Canker sores are often confused with cold sores. An easy way to distinguish between the two is to remember that canker sores occur inside the mouth, and cold sores usually occur outside the mouth.

A canker sore (also called aphthous ulcers) is a small ulcer with a white or gray base and red border. There can be one or a number of sores in the mouth. Canker sores are very common and often recur.

A cold sore, which is also called fever blister or herpes simplex, is composed of groups of painful, fluid-filled blisters that often erupt around the lips and sometime under the nose or under the chin. Cold sores are usually caused by herpes virus type I and are very contagious.

Canker sores usually heal in about a week or two. Rinsing with anitmircobial mouthrinses may help reduce the irritation. Over-the-counter topical anesthetics can also provide relief. Cold sores usually heal in about a week. Over-the-counter topical anesthetics can provide temporary relief and prescription antiviral drugs may reduce these kinds of viral infections.

Why did I get an abscess?

An abscessed (infected) tooth caused by tooth decayWhen the pulp of a tooth becomes infected (often from a deep cavity or a deep crack), the infection can spread throughout the pulp. If root canal treatment is not done, the infection may travel into the tissues near the root tip. This can cause the adjacent bone to erode. The pocket of pus that forms is the abscess. If the abscess increases in size, it can become more painful.

See also: Root Canal (Endodontic) Treatment



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