Ask A Dentist

Do you have a question you would like to ask one of our dentists? Just fill out the form to the right and we will get back with you quickly!

And be sure to check out the list of questions that we have already answered below in our weekly Ask A Dentist newspaper column.

Previous Questions

RE: Numbers from hygienist

Question: "Why did the hygienist call out numbers when she checked between my teeth?  What did it mean?

Answer: Periodontal disease is an infection of the tissues that support your teeth. Your gum tissue surrounds the tooth like a turtleneck sweater. There is a v-shaped crevice called a sulcus between the tooth and the gum. Your hygienist is measuring the depth of the sulcus with a blunt instrument called a periodontal probe. When you hear the numbers “2 and 3”, there isn’t much concern, but “4’s, 5’s & higher“ indicates an infected area that will need treatment. 

RE: Cosmetic Contouring

Question: “My girlfriend just got home from the dentist where she had COSMETIC CONTOURING performed. She is very excited with the change that it made to her smile. What is it?"

Answer: Tooth reshaping, or contouring, is one of the few instant treatments available that is simple, painless, and inexpensive. A small amount of tooth enamel is artfully reshaped removing imperfections. This process usually involves several teeth that are noticeable when you smile. Uneven angles and edges are smoothed all the while protecting the important chewing function of the teeth. Cosmetic enhancement with a more even smile is the end result.

RE: Dentures out at Night

Question: “I wear upper and lower dentures and the tissue under them is really red and sore. Someone told me that I should leave my dentures out while I sleep. Is this true?”

Answer: It’s important to leave your dentures out for several hours within a 24 hour period. While sleeping may be the most convenient time, leaving them out for at least 3-4 hours during the day is an acceptable alternative. By removing them, gum tissues are allowed to heal and recover from the stress of daily pressure. The tissue is then bathed in natural saliva and exposed to oxygen. This process allows for natural healing. If redness continues, you need to bring this to your dentist attention.

RE: Halloween Candy

Question: ”I just paid the price for sneaking into our Halloween treats. My dentist had to re-cement my crown. It’s not fair because it was just one piece of candy!”

Answer: I know who you are and I see others just like you at least once a week in October and on into November.  Halloween candy can wreak havoc on teeth. Sticky hard flavored candy (my favorite being watermelon) are notorious for pulling off crowns and should come with a dental warning label. Be very careful with these tasty treats. Don’t bite down on them, especially if you have crowns, or you’ll see me or your family dentist later.

RE: Home Remedies for Teeth Whitening

Question: “My Grandmother told me that if I brush with crushed lemons, strawberries and vinegar it will whiten my teeth. Is this true?”

Answer: Some different home remedies have been tried over the years for tooth whitening, but unfortunately I cannot recommend a particular recipe.  Homemade concoctions can be too acidic and will rob the teeth of their natural calcium and other protective minerals. With ADA approved safe and affordable over-the-counter whitening products available, ask your dentist about which type might be best for you. Your tooth enamel will benefit from this helpful advice and the end result of whitening this way may be more satisfying.

RE: Teeth Whitening for Older Adults

Question: “I am 68 years old and wish to re-enter the work force. Appearance is important to me and I want to know if I am too old to bleach my teeth.

Answer: Absolutely not! Studies have shown that in less than 25 seconds after meeting someone, they look at your smile. Teeth are naturally yellow or grayish in color and become darker as we age. By lightening the teeth, the smile becomes brighter and more youthful. The degree of whitening may vary depending on the health of your enamel however; it’s a simple process that may yield dramatic results. No matter what age we are, there is nothing wrong with striving to look our best.

RE: Oral Sedation

Question: “My husband refuses to go to the dentist. He comes up with all kinds of excuses but I think that it’s because he’s afraid. Can you offer some advice?”

Answer: Many people suffer from fear of going to the dentist and his anxiety shouldn’t be taken lightly. Depending on the level of dental work and his level of fear, oral sedation dentistry might be a good option for him. With medication, patients enter into a near sleep-like state which may help him tolerate dental care. First, you have to get him into the office for a consultation. This is the time that your husband and dentist can plan the treatment that addresses his situation. 

RE: Reimplanting a Tooth

Question: ”Last Summer my nephew fell down our steps and knocked out his permanent front tooth. We never found the tooth. What should we have done?”

Answer: This is a good time to address this unfortunate dental emergency. Should a person have a tooth knocked out, the first thing to do is make sure he is alright. Next, FIND THE TOOTH! When found, don’t try to clean it, instead, wrap the tooth with wet gauze. Preserving the tissues on the tooth will enhance the chance of possibly re-implanting the tooth.  The sooner the person visits the dentist, the greater the chance of success.

RE: Waiting Too Long for Crown After Root Canal

Qyestion:  “What happens if I wait longer than recommended to get a crown done after a root canal?  The tooth doesn’t hurt anymore and I want to save money for the holidays.” 

Answer: Although you may now be pain free, if the fragile remaining tooth structure is not properly and permanently covered and protected, your hollow tooth could fracture and not be salvageable. In addition, the bacteria in your saliva and food can seep beneath the temporary filling and infect the root canal. Should this occur, the pain may return to both your mouth and your wallet. It’s important to not put your dental investment at risk.  

RE: Root Planing

Question:  “My dentist told me that I needed root planing. Why can’t I just get my teeth cleaned?  What’s the difference?”

Answer: Regular cleanings are for people that don’t have periodontal disease. If your dentist has seen debris beneath your gum line, then he must address the “root” of the problem. Root planing and scaling are therapeutic which means it is treatment to stimulate healing. The tartar beneath your gums is hardened on your teeth and must be removed in order for your body’s immune system to heal the infection. Local anesthesia has to be given in order to do this procedure. A regular cleaning will not address the infection.

RE: Smokeless Tobacco

Question: "It's baseball season and my oldest grandson has started chewing tobacco. He says it's safer than smoking cigarettes. What should I tell him?"
Answer: Like cigarettes, smokeless tobacco products contain at least 28 cancer causing chemicals plus the juice can damage his voice box, esophagus, colon and bladder. The sugar added to enhance the flavor of the tobacco, can cause tooth decay, and the tobacco product causes periodontal disease. Encourage your grandson to try sugarless gum. Tell him that young ladies prefer this as an alternative to spitting black juice on to the ground.

RE: Thumbsucking

Question: " My son is 2 years old and still sucks his thumb. My mother-in-law told me that he needs to stop or he'll need braces. What should I do?"
Answer: Young children may suck on their thumbs, fingers or pacifiers in order to feel more secure. If this habit continues during the eruption of permanent teeth it may cause problems with proper growth of the mouth and alignment of teeth. The big key here is the intensity of the sucking action. Usually children stop between the ages of 2 and 4. Your child's dentist and pediatrician will follow his dental progress and will offer helpful tips that are individual to meet his needs.

RE: Using Teeth as Tools

Question: “My wife uses her teeth to cut the plastic that holds price tags. Can she break a tooth doing this?”

Answer: Most definitely! Unfortunately some women tend to use their teeth as tools for multiple tasks partly due to the risk of breaking a fingernail or chipping their polish. Often, men will use their front teeth to cut fishing line. Plastic seals are torn, thread is cut, and candy wrappers are opened using teeth. Biting down on foreign objects can crack and chip teeth, resulting in a costly repair. A better idea would be to get into the habit of taking the time to grab a pocket knife or a pair of scissors.

RE: Why Dry Socket is Painful

Question: “I had an abscessed tooth extracted and developed a dry socket. Why was this more painful than the abscess?”

Answer: A dry socket is an unfortunate complication from dental extractions that affects 2 to 5% of the population. After a tooth is removed, the body forms a healing blood clot in the empty socket space. If this clot becomes dislodged, or dissolves prematurely, the jaw bone is exposed to food, air and fluids. Further dental interventions may be needed to help provide comfort. These measures might include a sedative dressing which will soothe the inflamed bone and possibly oral medication until the body completes the healing process.