FAQ About Dental Health

What type of toothbrush and toothpaste should I use?

Buy toothbrushes with soft bristles. Medium and firm ones can damage teeth and gums. Use soft pressure, for 2 minutes, two times a day.

Both powered and manual toothbrushes clean teeth well. Manual brushes with mixed bristle heights or angled bristles clean better than those with all flat, even bristles. Powered toothbrushes may be easier if you have trouble using your hands.

Set a reminder to replace your toothbrush every 3-4 months. Toss it sooner if the bristles look bent or splayed out. Bent bristles don't clean as well. (They're also a sign you may be brushing too hard.)

Most toothpastes will clear away bacteria growth and acids from food and drinks. Toothpastes with the American Dental Association (ADA) Seal of Acceptance always have fluoride, which strengthens and protects teeth. If you want a non-fluoride option, stores carry toothpastes and powders made with natural ingredients that don't have ADA testing and approval.

If cold or hot food or drinks make you cringe, pick a toothpaste for sensitive teeth and let your dentist know.

Do I really need to floss?

There's no getting around the need to get around your teeth daily with dental floss. It clears food and plaque from between teeth and under the gumline. If you don't, plaque hardens into tartar, which forms wedges and widens the space between teeth and gums, causing pockets. Over time, gums pull away and teeth loosen.

Either waxed or unwaxed floss will do the job. Using floss picks or interdental brushes is another easy option.

Does a rinse or mouthwash help?

Mouthwashes for cavity protection, sensitivity, and fresh breath may help when you use them with regular brushing and flossing -- but not instead of daily cleanings. Your dentist can recommend the best type for you.

Some people need twice-daily rinses for gum health or alcohol-free washes for dry mouth.

Kids under 6 shouldn't use mouthwash to avoid the chance of them swallowing it.

What are early signs of dental trouble?

Visit a dentist if you have any of these issues or see your child having trouble chewing or complaining of soreness:

Getting checked out right away prevents more serious problems and infections.

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Why do I need dental exams?

Regular exams help spot trouble early to prevent bigger and more costly treatments later.

A dental hygienist will start by cleaning buildup from your teeth. Then the dentist will probe spots on the surfaces and near the gumline with special tools. If it's been a while between appointments, you may have some sore and sensitive areas.

You should get an exam every 6 months, or more often if your dentist recommends it. Find one who makes you feel at ease and lets you know what to expect. Often the dread of seeing the dentist turns to big relief when the visit is over and you have a care plan set up. Being positive as a parent can help your kids overcome any of their fears.

Are dental X-rays safe and needed?

Medical and dental experts study the use of X-rays and set limits for their safety. Your dentist should take as few as possible.

Expect to get them during a first exam after not seeing a dentist for a while. This helps check tooth and gum health. If you have gum disease, the dentist may want pictures every 6 months. For regular check-ups, it's about every 2 years, depending on your dentist's plan.

Kids have more X-rays done than adults because their teeth are changing and because they get cavities more easily.

Do teeth need fluoride?

Fluoride helps make teeth strong and prevents decay. The American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Dental Association (ADA), and the CDC all agree that kids should use fluoride toothpaste for brushing, taking care not to swallow it.

Adults benefit from using fluoride to protect their teeth, too.

How do fillings work?

Cavities break through the surface enamel of teeth, and they'll probably get bigger unless you close them off with fillings.

Your dentist will numb your mouth before drilling around the cavity to prep it. A combination of strong materials or a white mix called a composite goes into the cavity soft and then hardens as it dries. You may feel pain or pressure when getting the numbing shot and during the drilling.

Once set, fillings can last a long time but need replacing if they break or wear down.

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What do sealants do?

Sealants protect against cavities that can form in the natural tiny holes and cracks on the outside of teeth. Kids from about 6 to 12 benefit from having sealants painted and hardened onto the chewing surfaces of their back teeth, or molars. Adults can get sealants as well to protect teeth that don't have fillings.

Dentists or dental assistants put sealants on in an office visit, and it's painless. They last around 2-4 years.

What's the best way to whiten my teeth?

Stores sell many whitening products, and you can get take-home gels and trays from your dentist, but neither is as strong as procedures done in a dental office

If you want to try an over-the-counter whitener, look for one with an ADA seal. Check with your dentist for advice before you buy, especially if you have dental work or dark stains. And don't keep using them, or you could damage your teeth.

How can I fix my teeth and smile?

Caps and crowns cover problem teeth by surrounding them in a material that looks like a real tooth. They use the root and inside of the tooth as a base to build on, then attach with special cement.

Veneers and bonding improve your smile by sticking a layer of smoother and whiter materials like porcelain or resin to the natural tooth.

Talk with your dentist about which fix is right for you.

Are sweets and ice really bad for my teeth?

Yes, sweets and foods with acid, like candy and soda, could stick to teeth and lead to cavities. Smoking and chewing tobacco can cause oral cancer and gum disease.

While teeth are strong enough to chew ice and tear open packages, this can break them and stress your jaws. Gritting or grinding down on teeth when you're stressed may crack them.

Biting your nails is another bad habit. It pulls your jaw out of position and changes how your teeth fit together.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Alfred D. Wyatt Jr., DMD on June 14, 2018

Sources

SOURCES:

American Dental Association: "Toothbrushes," "Floss/Interdental Cleaners," "Mouthwash (Mouthrinse)," "Fluoride: Topical and Systemic Supplements," Dental Sealants," "Statement on the Safety and Effectiveness of Tooth Whitening Products."

Mouth Healthy: "Top Ten Dental Symptoms," "6 Habits That Harm Your Teeth (And How to Break Them)."

Cleveland Clinic: "Dental Check-Up," "Dental X-rays," Dental Bonding," "Could You Be Ruining Your Teeth With These 5 Bad Habits?"

KnowYourTeeth: "Children's Dental Visits: Parents, Prepare Yourselves."

Campaign for Dental Health: "Is Fluoride Safe?"

CDC: "Children's Oral Health," "Dental Sealants Prevent Cavities."

Mayo Clinic: "Cavities/tooth decay."

Journal of the American Dental Association: "When a filling needs to be replaced."

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