Answers to Five Commonly Asked Dental Questions

1.       Are dental X-rays safe?

Dental x-rays are very safe, and dentists are very conscientious about x-ray exposure.  Digital x-rays are very low exposure.  A full series of dental x-rays is about the amount of exposure you receive taking an airline flight across country.  A full series of x-rays is an essential part of a complete examination and smaller series of x-rays are part of a periodic examination.  Your frequency of x-rays should be determined in consultation with your dentist based on your history of cavities and other risk factors.  Without x-rays it would be impossible to detect cavities between the teeth or tumors, abscesses and growths in the jaw until they become so large that the treatment would be difficult or impossible.  Early detection of small cavities leads to successful long-term treatment with tooth colored fillings.  Undiagnosed cavities can lead to pain, infections, root canals and extractions.

2.       Do I really need to floss?

Flossing is one method to remove food and bacterial plaque from around the teeth in areas that the tooth brush will not reach.  Flossing is considered the best way to remove food and bacterial plaque from these difficult to access areas but there are other methods that are also good since not everyone can or will floss.  Sonic action toothbrushes will do a better job than a manual toothbrush in difficult to reach areas.  Adding a water pic is helpful and interdental brushes like proxy brushes are helpful.  Your dentist or hygienist can suggest the best products based on your needs and abilities.

3.       What is the best toothpaste?

The isle in the grocery or drugstore with dental products can be overwhelming.  Toothpaste varieties and brands are confusing.  Many toothpastes advertise that they are whitening, cavity control, sensitivity control, holistic and gum disease control.  What you want in a toothpaste is one that is not too abrasive, not irritating to the gums, helps control cavities and if needed sensitivity control.  In general, I tell my patients to buy a plain paste toothpaste with fluoride and the American Dental Association seal which assures safety testing.  Avoid whitening toothpastes because they are generally very abrasive to the teeth, they will dull dental fillings and can cause tooth sensitivity.  Avoid gel and tarter control toothpastes because they can be irritating to the gums.  Use a fluoride toothpaste for cavity prevention and a sensitivity toothpaste if your teeth are sensitive.  In summary, a plain paste toothpaste with fluoride is usually the right choice and the less expensive option.

4.       When should my child first go to the dentist?

Your child’s first visit should be when the baby teeth start to erupt.  It is important to establish excellent oral hygiene early in life and to ask questions about brushing, homecare, pacifier use, foods, baby bottles and sippy cups.  The first visit with your general or pediatric dentist is usually informational a “get to know you” visit for you and your child.  Introduce your child to the dental office early so they build trust, are not afraid, expect to be there on a regular basis and are comfortable with the dentist and hygienist examining their mouth.

5.       Should I whiten my teeth?

Whitening is a very safe and effective way to remove internal stains from discolored teeth.  Whitening is usually a special peroxide gel that can be applied in a dental office (high concentration) or at home (low concentration).  Whitening can be done whenever you want to lighten your teeth.  The only precautions are if your teeth get sensitive, stop whitening, or during pregnancy, whitening is not approved for use during pregnancy.

 Dr. Robert A. Gallegos is a Fellow in the Academy of General Dentistry, visiting faculty at Spear Education, alumnus of Pankey Institute, a member the American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry, the American Academy of Dental Sleep Medicine and the American Dental Association.  Dr. Gallegos practices dentistry in Middleburg, VA.

Dr. Gallegos