Frequently Asked Questions
Below are some of the answers to the questions we're asked most.
What's the best way to avoid tooth decay?
The ADA recommends the following for good oral hygiene:
Talk to Dr. Mason about what types of oral care products will be most effective for you. The ADA Seal on a product is your assurance that it has met ADA criteria for safety and effectiveness. Look for the ADA Seal on fluoride toothpaste, toothbrushes, floss, interdental cleaners, oral irrigators, mouth rinses and other oral hygiene products.
How often should I buy a new toothbrush?
Replace your toothbrush every three or four months, or sooner if the bristles become frayed. A worn toothbrush will not do a good job of cleaning your teeth. Children's toothbrushes often need replacing more frequently than adults because they can wear out sooner. Also, replace your toothbrush after an illness. Bacteria can hang out on the bristles for longer than you may think.
What are some tips for daily oral care?
The best way to remove decay-causing plaque is by brushing and cleaning between your teeth every day. Brushing removes plaque from the tooth surfaces.
Brush your teeth twice a day, with a soft-bristled brush. The size and shape of your brush should fit your mouth, allowing you to reach all areas easily. Use a toothpaste that contains fluoride, which helps protect your teeth from decay. When choosing any dental product, look for the American Dental Association Seal of Acceptance, an important symbol of a dental product's safety and effectiveness.
Cleaning between the teeth once a day with floss or interdental cleaners removes plaque from between the teeth, areas where the toothbrush can't reach. It is essential in preventing periodontal (gum) disease.
By taking care of your teeth, eating a balanced diet and visiting your dentist regularly, you can have healthy teeth and an attractive smile your entire life.
People who have difficulty handling dental floss may prefer to use another kind of interdental cleaner. These aids include special brushes, picks or sticks. If you use interdental cleaners, ask your dentist about how to use them properly, to avoid injuring your gums.
Isn't tooth loss inevitable in the later years?
No! Today, older adults are keeping their natural teeth longer because of scientific developments and the preventive emphasis in dentistry. This improvement was seen in the results of a survey released by the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research. They showed that among persons aged 55 to 64, the rate of toothlessness dropped 60 percent since 1960.
Good oral hygiene and regular dental care are important throughout your life, whatever your age. By practicing good oral hygiene at home and visiting your dentist regularly, you will prevent dental problems and save time and money as well. In the process, you can save your teeth and gums.
At my older age, why should I bother with oral hygiene, such as brushing and flossing?
Thorough daily brushing and flossing of your natural teeth are essential to keep them in good condition-especially as you age. Plaque, the sticky, colorless layer of bacteria that causes tooth decay and periodontal (gum) disease, can build up quickly on the teeth of older adults, particularly when they neglect oral hygiene. This can increase your risk for tooth decay and periodontal disease.
A few simple steps can help you maintain good oral health throughout your life. Brush your teeth twice a day with a fluoride toothpaste, and clean between your teeth daily with floss or interdental cleaners. Choose products that carry the ADA Seal of Acceptance, your assurance that the products have met the ADA's standards for safety and effectiveness. Be sure to see your dentist regularly for exams and professional teeth cleaning.
Should adults be concerned about cavities?
Tooth decay is not just a child's problem. Adults of all ages can have cavities, too. The causes for tooth decay are the same for everyone, regardless of age. Decay results when the bacteria in plaque feed on the carbohydrates (sugar and starch) in our diet to produce acids that can cause cavities.
Yet, the nature of the decay problem does change somewhat as people grow older. Adults are more likely to have decay around older fillings, and because many adults grew up without the benefits of fluoride, they may have many more fillings. Decay of the tooth root is also common among older adults. Root caries (decay) occur when the gums recede, exposing the softer root surface, which decays more easily than tooth enamel.
Tooth decay is also promoted by dry mouth. This condition-called xerostomia-occurs when the supply of saliva is greatly reduced. It can be caused by many types of medications (such as anti-histamines, anti-hypertensives, and anti-depressants) or radiation therapy to the head or neck. Saliva is needed to lubricate the mouth, wash foods away and neutralize the acids produced by plaque. Allowed to continue, dry mouth can lead to rampant tooth decay. If you think you have this problem, be sure to discuss it with Dr. Mason. She may recommend artificial saliva and fluoride products to help prevent decay.
I understand that periodontal disease is a major cause of tooth loss in adults, but is there anything I can do about it?
Gum disease-periodontal disease-often progresses slowly, without pain, over a long period of time. This is one reason why it is common among older adults. The longer the disease goes undetected and uncontrolled, the more damage it causes to gums and other supporting tissues. Although periodontal disease is caused by plaque, other factors can increase the risk or severity of the condition. These include food left between the teeth, smoking, smokeless (spit) tobacco use, badly aligned teeth, ill-fitting bridges or partial dentures, poor diets and systemic diseases such as anemia and diabetes.
Although periodontal disease is common, it can be controlled or arrested. In its early stages, it can be reversed. Treatment of advanced cases may require surgery. Look for these warning signs and see your dentist if you notice any of them: bleeding gums when you brush; red, tender or swollen gums; gums that have pulled away from the teeth; pus between your teeth and gums when the gums are pressed; loose teeth or teeth that are moving apart; any change in your bite; any change in the fit of your partial dentures; constant bad breath or bad taste.
Now that I have full dentures, do I really need to see the dentist as often as before?
Even if you no longer have your natural teeth, you should see your dentist regularly for an oral examination. Dr. Mason will examine your mouth to check for any problem with the gum ridges, the tongue and the joints of the jaw, as well as screen for oral cancer. For a variety of reasons, many older adults are more susceptible to oral diseases, including oral cancer. About 95 percent of all cancers are found in people over age 40. However, many of these cancers are treatable if detected early. Oral tissues are also checked for signs of other diseases that can first manifest themselves in the mouth.
I am anxious about dental visits. I know I should go, but I can't. What can I do?
Anxiety over dental treatment is not unusual. People of any age can experience it. Older patients may be less able to cope with the stress due to certain physical conditions such as vision or hearing loss. Communication between you and your dentist is an important aspect of a comfortable dental visit. You should share your feelings with Dr. Mason and the staff. Let them know that you are anxious so that they can adjust their treatment and their pace to meet your needs. Advances in pain and anxiety control, including many behavioral therapy techniques borrowed from psychology, have made dental visits relatively anxiety- and pain-free.
I am currently taking medication that my physician prescribed for me. Can this affect my dental treatment?
When Dr. Mason or her assistant asks for your medical history, be sure to provide complete, up-to-date information on your health. Inform Dr. Mason if you have experienced recent hospitalization or surgery, or if you have recently been ill. Also tell Dr. Mason the names, doses and frequency of any medications you are taking-whether prescription or over-the-counter products-and the name of your physician. Inform her of any changes in your health or medications. This information will help Dr. Mason to select the most safe and effective method of treatment for you.
Why do my teeth seem darker as I get older?
One of the changes you may notice as you grow older is that it's harder to keep your teeth clean and white. This is because the sticky, colorless layer of bacteria, called plaque, can build up faster and in greater amounts as we age. Changes in dentin, the bone-like tissue that is under your enamel, may also cause your teeth to appear slightly darker.
What can you do?
How effective is teeth bleaching?
You may want to start by speaking with Dr. Mason. She can tell you whether whitening procedures would be effective for you. Whiteners may not correct all types of discoloration. For example, yellow-ish hued teeth will probably bleach well, brownish-colored teeth may bleach less well, and grayish-hued teeth may not bleach well at all. Likewise, bleaching may not enhance your smile if you have had bonding or tooth-colored fillings placed in your front teeth. The whitener will not effect the color of these materials, and they will stand out in your newly whitened smile. In these cases, you may want to investigate other options, like porcelain veneers or dental bonding.
What are at-home bleaching procedures and products?
There are several types of products available for use at home, which can either be dispensed by Dr. Mason or purchased over-the-counter.
Bleaching Solutions. These products contain peroxide(s), which actually bleach the tooth enamel. These products typically rely on percent carbamide peroxide as the bleaching agent, carbamide peroxide comes in several different concentrations (10%, 16%, 22%).
Peroxide-containing whiteners typically come in a gel and are placed in a mouthguard. Usage regimens vary. Some products are used for about twice a day for 2 weeks, and others are intended for overnight use for 1-2 weeks. If you obtain the bleaching solution from Dr. Mason, she can make a custom-fitted mouthguard for you that will fit your teeth precisely. Currently, only dentist-dispensed home-use 10% carbamide peroxide tray-applied gels carry the ADA Seal.
Toothpastes. All toothpastes help remove surface stain through the action of mild abrasives. "Whitening" toothpastes in the ADA Seal of Acceptance program have special chemical or polishing agents that provide additional stain removal effectiveness. Unlike bleaches, these ADA Accepted products do not alter the intrinsic color of teeth.
Should I brush or floss first?
The sequence makes no difference as long as you do a thorough job. Look for products that have the ADA's Seal of Acceptance. Choose a soft toothbrush that feels comfortable in your hand and in your mouth, and use it twice a day. While tooth brushing removes plaque from tooth surfaces, it can't do the entire job of removing plaque. Cleaning between the teeth daily with floss or other interdental cleaners removes debris from between the teeth, where your toothbrush cannot reach. An ADA-Accepted dental floss or interdental cleaner is recommended.
What is baby bottle tooth decay?
Decay in infants and children is called baby bottle tooth decay. It can destroy the teeth and most often occurs in the upper front teeth. But other teeth may also be affected.
Decay occurs when sweetened liquids are given and are left clinging to an infant's teeth for long periods. Many sweet liquids cause problems, including milk, formula and fruit juice. Bacteria in the mouth use these sugars as food. They then produce acids that attack the teeth. Each time your child drinks these liquids, acids attack for 20 minutes or longer. After many attacks, the teeth can decay.
It's not just what you put in your child's bottle that causes decay, but how often - and for how long a time. Giving your child a bottle of sweetened liquid many times a day isn't a good idea. Allowing your child to fall asleep with a bottle during naps or at night can also harm the child's teeth.
Your child's baby teeth are important. Children need strong, healthy teeth to chew their food, speak and have a good-looking smile. Baby teeth also keep a space in the jaw for the adult teeth. If a baby tooth is lost too early, the teeth beside it may drift into the empty space. When it's time for the adult teeth to come in, there may not be enough room. This can make the teeth crooked or crowded.
How can baby bottle tooth decay be prevented?
Sometimes parents do not realize that a baby's teeth can decay soon after they appear in the mouth. By the time decay is noticed, it may be too late to save the teeth. You can help prevent this from happening to your child by following the tips below:
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