Frequently Asked Questions
What’s that stuff the hygienist puts on my teeth?
Fluoride varnish is applied to patients’ teeth who have been deemed to be at moderate to high risk for decay. Not every patient requires fluoride. Patients who do not have a history of decay or who are at low risk for decay do not benefit from fluoride. However, for patients who are at moderate to high risk for decay, fluoride is extremely beneficial. Patients who have fluoride professionally applied twice a year show a 74% reduction in tooth decay.
What makes me at high risk for tooth decay? Every patient receives a risk assessment for decay during each exam appointment. Patients are classified at low, moderate and high risk for decay. Your risk classification is elevated based on a number of criteria. Patients with current decay, a history of decay, heavily restored dentition, poor oral hygiene, numerous starts of cavities or decalcifications or xerostomia (dry mouth) all have elevated risk of decay. Another risk factor for decay is age. Most children and adolescents are at high risk of decay based on their inability to adequately clean their teeth.
Your risk classification will dictate how you are treated in the office. For example, someone who is at low risk for decay may receive x-rays only once every other year, whereas someone who is at moderate to high risk for decay would receive annual x-rays. Furthermore, patients who are at low risk for decay will not be offered or recommended a fluoride varnish, while high risk patients will be recommended fluoride varnish twice annually. For high-risk patients we may even go further and provide a prescription fluoride to be used daily.
Why do I need x-rays every year?
As stated above, x-rays are taken only as needed depending on your risk for tooth decay. If you are at moderate to high risk for decay you should have x-rays taken annually. A lot can change in one year. We have seen many patients over the years who have missed dental appointments or deferred x-rays and returned with cavities that could have been dealt with at much earlier stages. The cost of prevention in dentistry is significantly less than the alternative.
Are amalgam (silver) fillings safe? Don’t they contain mercury?
Numerous studies have confirmed that amalgam fillings are extremely safe. Although they do contain mercury, the mercury is in a bound up form that is not ingested systemically. Mercury exposure from natural sources, such as air and food, far exceed that from a dental filling. Amalgam fillings are an extremely durable and inexpensive option for restoring teeth.
Why do I have to see a specialist?
While we strive to perform as much of your needed dental work in our office, there are just some procedures that are so complex that a specialist is necessary. Specialists have additional training in their specific field and specialized equipment that allows them to complete procedures efficiently and with high success. My rule of thumb is that if a patient can have a service provided by specialist with specialized equipment that is at a higher quality that I can perform, then I am obligated to refer them on for that treatment.
Why put a filling in a baby tooth when it’s just going to fall out?
Baby teeth, or primary teeth, are critically important for the development of the permanent dentition. Without baby teeth, the permanent teeth do not know where to go when they erupt which can cause severe crowding problems. Furthermore, primary teeth with untreated decay can cause infections, abscesses and pain, just as adult teeth do.
How long should I expect my dental work to last?
Even the most well done dental work does not last forever. While a simple filling may fix a cavity, there is a trade-off every time one is placed. Eventually, fillings do deteriorate and can substantially weaken a tooth. Furthermore, fillings and crowns can actually make a tooth more susceptible to decay and, at some point, will likely need to be replaced. Studies show the average tooth colored composite fillings last an average of 5 to 7 years, the average amalgam filling lasts 10 to 12 years and the average crown last 12 to 14 years. Good oral hygiene, regular dental visits and supplements such as fluoride can help your dental work lasts as long as possible.