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Frequently Asked Dental Questions

What are TMJ disorders? What are the signs and symptoms of TMJ disorders?
The temporomandibular joints (TMJ) link your lower jaw to the side of your head. Pain, tenderness or stiffness in these joints, or in the muscles surrounding them is referred to as TMJ disorders.

What type of mouthguard offers the best protection?
Mouthguards widely available in sporting goods stores offer the least protection and are less likely to be worn because they are uncomfortable and do not conform to your teeth. Custom-fit mouthguards from Portway Dentistry offer the best and most comfortable protection.

What causes dry mouth?
While anyone can get dry mouth, also called xerostomia, it is a common problem among older adults. In fact, the Oral Cancer Foundation estimates that 20% of elderly people suffer from dry mouth and this condition is also a hidden cause of tooth loss and gum disease in 30% of adults.

Canker Sores - What are canker sores?
Many people often wonder exactly what are canker sores?
Canker sores, also known as Aphthous Ulcers, are small lesions that occur inside the mouth, and are not contagious.

What are dental insurance coverage types?
According to most dental insurance companies, dental procedures are broken down into three categories.

Canker Sores - When should you see a dentist?
Canker sores are very common and they are not contagious.

Pregnancy Gingivitis - What is pregnancy gingivitis?
When I was pregnant, I woke up one morning with red, puffy and very tender gums. I had pregnancy gingivitis. Pregnancy gingivitis is a condition caused by increased hormone levels that can cause swollen, red and tender gums. It is often accompanied with bleeding when you brush your teeth.

According to the American Academy of Periodontology, about 50% of women experience pregnancy gingivitis. This condition is most common between the second to eighth month of pregnancy. If you experience the symptoms of pregnancy gingivitis, be sure to visit your dentist to see if you need more frequent dental cleanings or other treatment.

The best way to prevent pregnancy gingivitis is to practice good oral hygiene and to visit your dentist and dental hygienist for regular checkups and cleanings. While good oral hygiene is important to everyone, it is even more so with pregnant women.

Be sure to floss everyday, brush your teeth at least twice a day and use an antimicrobial mouth rinse such as Listerine or Crest Pro-Health Rinse.

Why is oral hygiene so important during pregnancy?
Pregnancy is a very exciting and busy time. There are so many changes going on in your body and your mouth is no exception. Good oral hygiene is extremely important during pregnancy because the increase of hormone levels during pregnancy can cause dental problems to be intensified.

One of the most common dental problems associated with pregnancy is a condition known as pregnancy gingivitis, which usually occurs during the first trimester. Symptoms of pregnancy gingivitis are usually bleeding, swollen, red and tender gums.

Good oral health during pregnancy could also be important to your fetus. Some researchers have suggested that the serious stage of gum disease, periodontitis, could cause premature birth and low birth weight.

What is periodontitis?
Periodontitis is the serious and advanced stage of gum disease which includes bone loss. Periodontitis is irreversible. The gum tissue and bone that surround and support your teeth could become seriously damaged and the teeth affected could become loose and fall out. Periodontitis occurs when the early stage of periodontal disease, gingivitis, is left untreated.

Periodontitis has also been linked to serious health problems such as an increased risk of stroke and heart attacks. Periodontitis could also cause higher blood sugar levels.

Some researchers have even suggested that gum disease can cause premature birth and low birth weight.

Poor oral hygiene is the most common cause of periodontitis. Brushing twice a day, flossing daily and regular checkups with your dentist are the best ways to prevent periodontitis.

What is an abscessed tooth?
An abscess of the tooth is an infection. An abscess can include pus and swelling of the soft gum tissues surrounding the tooth. An abscess can develop from tooth decay or tooth trauma, such as a broken tooth. If there is an opening in the enamel of a tooth, such as a cavity, bacteria can get in and infect the pulp (centre) of the tooth and cause an abscess.

Once an abscess happens, the infection could spread throughout the mouth and body. A root canal is usually the only option to save a tooth once it has become abscessed. If you suspect that you have an abscessed tooth, you should see your dentist right away.

What is tooth sensitivity?
Tooth sensitivity is a common problem that affects millions of people. Basically, tooth sensitivity means experiencing pain or discomfort to your teeth from sweets, cold air, hot drinks, cold drinks or ice cream. Some people with sensitive teeth even experience discomfort from brushing and flossing. The good news is that sensitive teeth can be treated.

Dental Insurance - What is usual, customary and reasonable?
Almost all dental insurance companies use what is called a "usual, customary and reasonable" (UCR) fee guide. This means that they set their own price that they will allow for every dental procedure that they cover. This is not based on what a dentist actually charges, but what the dental insurance company wishes to cover. For example, your dentist may charge $78 for a dental cleaning, but your insurance company will only allow $58 because that is the UCR fee that they have set.

Which toothbrush is really better - manual or electric?
With all the bells and whistles and hundreds of toothbrushes on the market, you've got to wonder, which is really the best toothbrush to buy – manual or electric?

According to the Academy of General Dentistry, the best toothbrush that you can buy is the one that you will actually use. That's it. Yes, it's really that simple. While both electric and manual toothbrushes have some pros and cons, the bottom line is which one you will use. The American Dental Association recommends brushing your teeth at least twice a day for two minutes.

How does your mouth affect your overall health?
Often taken for granted, the monotonous task of brushing and flossing our teeth daily has never been more important in order to avoid gum disease and the risks gum disease place on our overall health. It has been estimated that 75% of Americans have some form of gum disease, which has been linked to serious health complications and causes various dental problems that are often avoidable.
What is tooth decay?
Decay is the destruction of tooth structure. Decay occurs when plaque, the sticky substance that forms on teeth, combines with the sugars and / or starches of the foods that we eat. This combination produces acids that attack tooth enamel. The best way to prevent tooth decay is by brushing twice a day and flossing daily.

If decay reaches the pulp of the tooth, a root canal may be necessary to save the tooth.

Eating healthy foods and avoiding snacks and drinks that are high in sugar are also ways to prevent decay.


What is calculus?
Calculus, also known as tartar, is the hardened residue that forms on your teeth when plaque is not removed. Plaque can be removed by brushing twice a day and flossing daily. If tartar is allowed to remain on the teeth and below the gum line, it can lead to chronic infection and inflammation. The only way to remove tartar is to have your teeth professionally cleaned at your dental office.


What is a dental implant?
A dental implant is a metal device designed to replace missing teeth. The device is usually made out of titanium and is surgically placed into the jawbone where the tooth is missing. Unlike a dental bridge, an implant is permanent.

A dental implant is designed to act as the tooth root and can anchor an artificial tooth or teeth such as a crown, bridge or denture.


What causes decay?
Decay occurs when plaque, the sticky substance that forms on teeth, combines with the sugars and / or starches of the foods that we eat. This combination produces acids that attack tooth enamel. The best way to prevent tooth decay is by brushing twice a day and flossing daily. Eating healthy foods and avoiding snacks and drinks that are high in sugar are also ways to prevent decay.


What is a veneer?
A veneer is a thin shell made out of porcelain or composite material. They are custom made and cemented to the front side of the tooth. A veneer can be used to treat dental conditions such as a slightly crooked tooth, discoloured teeth, chipped teeth or they can even be used to cover spaces in between the teeth.

A veneer can be made by the dentist or in a dental laboratory, depending on the materials used and the preference of the dentist.


When should I take my child to the dentist for the first time?
According to the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry, children should visit a pediatric dentist when their first tooth comes in or no later than their first birthday.


What is fluoride?
Fluoride, a naturally occurring mineral, is often added to drinking water and is commonly found in toothpaste. Research has shown that the rate of cavities decreases in areas where fluoride is added to the water supply. Health authorities, such as the American Dental Association and the World Health Organization, both advocate the addition of fluoride to drinking water, and recommend you use toothpaste that contains fluoride, if age appropriate.

If you do not have fluoride in your water, fluoride is also available in:
  • Tablets
  • Rinse
  • Varnish
  • Foam

Speak with your dentist if you are concerned whether or not you are receiving enough, or too much fluoride daily. Fluoride treatments are also given at your dental office after a cleaning appointment every six months to one year.


Are silver fillings safe?
Silver (Amalgam) filling material contains about 50% mercury and 50% of various other metals. While there have been no conclusive studies relating the mercury in amalgam to any dangers, mercury by itself is very toxic.

With the introduction of new filling materials, amalgam is not used as often as it once was. More than 70% of all fillings today are placed in the tooth by the dentist with resin or composite materials. Amalgam has been deemed safe by the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research, the FDA and the US Public Health Service. Important Update - June 2008 The FDA Admits Silver Dental Fillings May Not Be Safe.

In light of this recent information, the FDA (Federal Drug Administration) still does not recommend having amalgam fillings removed and the American Dental Association continues to stand their ground that amalgam is a safe and durable filling material.


What is a cavity?
A cavity is a hole in the tooth that is caused by decay. Decay occurs when plaque, the sticky substance that forms on teeth, combines with the sugars and / or starches of the food we eat. This combination produces acids that attack tooth enamel. The best way to prevent tooth decay is brushing twice a day, flossing daily and going to your regular dental checkups. Eating healthy foods and avoiding snacks and drinks that are high in sugar are also ways to prevent decay.


What is gingivitis?
Gingivitis is the early stage of gum disease, which can be treated and reversed if diagnosed early. The signs and symptoms are red, swollen and puffy gums that bleed easily. If treatment is not received, gingivitis could progress into periodontitis, an advanced and more serious stage of gum disease which includes bone loss and is not reversible. Gum disease is one of the main causes of tooth loss in adults and has also been linked to heart attacks and strokes.

Brushing twice a day, flossing daily, regular dental checkups and dental cleanings are the best preventions against gum disease.


How often should I see the dentist for a checkup and cleaning?
Most children and adults should see their dentist for a regular cleaning and checkup every six months. People at a greater risk for oral diseases should have dental checkups more than twice a year. Tobacco and alcohol use, diabetes, pregnancy, periodontal and gum disease, poor oral hygiene and certain medical conditions are some of the many factors that your dentist takes into consideration when deciding how often you need your dental cleaning and checkup.

Going to your regular checkups will help to keep your gums and teeth healthy as well as detect any early problems such as gum disease, oral cancer and cavities. The best way to maintain good oral health is to visit your dentist on a regular basis.


How often should I brush my teeth?
According to the American Dental Association, you should brush your teeth twice a day. Brushing your teeth helps to remove plaque which causes tooth decay and can lead to gum disease.

Always use a soft bristled toothbrush with a toothpaste that contains fluoride. Make sure that the toothbrush fits inside of your mouth so that you can easily reach all areas. When brushing, use gentle back and forth strokes, brushing all sides of the teeth. Always brush your tongue to remove any bacteria and keep your breath fresh.


How often should I floss my teeth?
You should floss your teeth at least once a day. Flossing in between your teeth removes food debris and plaque from in between the teeth that a toothbrush can't reach. Plaque causes tooth decay and can lead to gum disease. Another great reason to floss is that recent studies have shown that flossing helps to prevent a heart attack or stroke.

When flossing, be sure to gently insert the floss in between the teeth, without snapping, which could damage the gum tissue. Gently move the floss up and down into the spaces between the gum and teeth. Floss the sides of all of your teeth, even if there isn't a tooth next to another one. There are a number of dental products available that are designed to make flossing easier, such as disposable dental flossers.


How often should I change my toothbrush?
Adults and children should change their toothbrush every 3 months because they become worn out and are not as effective as they once were. Exceptions to this would be if you were using an electric toothbrush, and the manufacturer states otherwise. Some electric rechargable toothbrushes have very good brush heads that only need to be changed every 6 months. If you have gum disease, you should change your toothbrush every 4 - 6 weeks because bacteria can harbour in the bristles. You should always rinse your toothbrush out with hot water after every use and change it after you have been sick.


What is plaque?
Plaque is the soft and sticky substance that accumulates on the teeth from food debris and bacteria. Plaque can be removed by brushing and flossing thoroughly. If plaque is not removed, it can lead to gum disease and cavities. Regular dental checkups, brushing twice a day, flossing daily and eating nutritional snacks will help to prevent plaque from forming on the teeth.


What causes bad breath?
Halitosis – known as bad breath to most – is an embarrassing condition that can affect anyone at anytime, and is caused by several factors. The most common causes of bad breath are preventable and easily treated, however certain medical conditions may also cause bad breath. Chronic halitosis may indicate an underlying medical concern that should be addressed by your dentist or medical doctor.

Learn about the most common reasons why you may experience bad breath, and when you should see a dentist for your halitosis.


What is halitosis?
Halitosis is a clinical name for bad breath. According to dental studies, about 85% of people with bad breath have a dental condition that is to blame.


What are dental sealants?
Dental sealants are a clear and protective coating that is applied to the biting surfaces of the back teeth. The sealant protects the tooth from getting a cavity by shielding against bacteria and plaque. Sealants are most commonly placed on children's permanent back teeth because they are more prone to cavities. Most insurance companies pay for sealants on children's teeth. They can also be placed on adult's teeth, however, insurance usually won't cover them.


What is the difference between a silver and white filling?
The main difference between silver and white dental fillings is the material that they consist of. Silver (amalgam) fillings, are made up of 50% mercury and 50% of other various metals. White (composite) fillings are made up of acrylic and various glass particles. Other differences in silver and white fillings are cost, strength and the way they look.


What is bruxism?
Bruxism is the clenching and / or grinding of your teeth, especially at night. Clenching refers to tightly clamping your top and bottom teeth together. The force of clenching causes stressful pressure on the muscles, tissues and jaw. Jaw disorders, jaw pain, soreness, headaches, earaches, damaged teeth and other problems can result from bruxism. If clenching causes jaw pain, it can disrupt sleeping and eating, lead to other dental problems or create TMJ problems. Nightly grinding can also disturb sleeping partners. Your dentist can make a clear night guard for you to sleep in to alleviate the clenching or grinding.


Is your baby teething?
When will my baby get his baby teeth? Most babies will start to get their baby teeth between 6 and 10 months of age. Watch for your baby's first teeth to show up in the lower front of his mouth. When this starts to happen, your baby may have some discomfort. The discomfort makes him fussy. The gums may be swollen and tender. He may want to chew things.

The two upper front teeth will probably be the next teeth to come in. The rest of his teeth will come in slowly. In time, he will have a total of 20 baby teeth.

Teething sometimes causes a temperature. If your baby has a temperature of 100 degrees or more, call your doctor or clinic. He may be sick and need treatment.

Gently rubbing your baby's gums with a clean finger, cool spoon or wet cloth can be soothing. You can also give your baby a teething ring or pacifier to chew on.

Some teething rings are made to be chilled. This cool object against his gums may feel good and make him less fussy. You don't need to put any kind of pain reliever on his gums. These wash away quickly and don't help much.

These tips were adapted from the U.S. Department of Education.