DENTAL CARE: DENTAL X-RAYS
Question: I’m 40 years old and haven’t had a cavity since I was Yet my dentist recommends annual X-rays to look between the back teeth for holes. Doesn’t this expose me to too much radiation?
Answer: Overall, the risk of dental X-rays is minimal. Today, a full-mouth series of X-rays expose patients to only 13 millirems of radiation. By comparison, Americans are exposed to 300 millirems a year just from the natural environment. But if you have no history of cavities and your gums are healthy, there’s little reason for annual X-rays. Talk to your dentist about having “bitewing” X-rays every two or three years; they target the specific teeth the dentist is concerned about.
ALTERNATIVES TO TOOTH CAPS
Question: I have a gap between my two front teeth. Dentists have previously advised against grinding down two or four otherwise healthy teeth to cap them. Can anything else be done?
Answer: There are newer procedures for improving the appearance of your teeth without cutting them down or covering them with caps. Teeth can be reshaped, and spaces closed, by bonding with composites, porcelain, or plastic veneers. Ask your dentist about the relative cost and durability of the various procedures.
BRACES: HEALTH OR BEAUTY?
Question: Most children in my son’s class have braces on their j, and our orthodontist is suggesting we have our son fitted, too. Are there good medical and dental reasons for giving children perfectly straight teeth» or is the primary motivation cosmetic?
Answer: It’s mostly cosmetic. Crooked teeth can undoubtedly cause emotional distress, particularly in appearance-conscious teens. But the reasons are usually given for straightening a child’s teeth—to prevent cavities and gum disease—have been questioned after several studies failed to show a protective effect. Nor have researchers convincingly linked crooked teeth to temporomandibular joint (TMJ) syndrome. Only a severely disordered bite is likely to cause such physical problems as difficulty chewing or gum disease.
CALCIUM FOR ORAL HEALTH?
Question: I’m a 42-year-old woman with receding gums and bone loss around my teeth. My dentist recommends that I take calcium supplements to delay further bone loss. Is this the best treatment for my condition?
Answer: No evidence getting extra calcium will help reduce periodontal disease, which is what causes such bone loss. A periodontist should evaluate you. Treatment options range from periodic root planning to various surgical therapies.
CAN RECEDING GUMS BE REBUILT?
Question: I am almost 60 years old and have near-perfect teeth. But my gums are receding. I recall reading about an innovative technique in which a gumlike substance is attached to the teeth along the receding gum line. Can you tell me more about this approach?
Answer: The technique you read about may have been guided tissue regeneration. A porous membrane placed between the gum and the tooth encourages connective tissue to cross the membrane and bind to the root. The technique helps close periodontal pockets, the spaces between gums and roots where infection breeds. But such a procedure doesn’t grow new gum tissue to cover the exposed roots.
DENTAL PLANING VS. CLEANING
Question: For some years, I’ve had my teeth cleaned twice a year, at the cost of $25 to $35 per visit. A new dentist recently recommended that I have dental planning done. But the price for planing is $120 an appointment, and each visit deals with only one-quarter of my teeth. Please comment.
Answer: There’s a big difference between cleaning and planning, in function as well as cost. Cleaning removes tartar above and around the gum line and polishes the teeth. A dental hygienist often performs it. Planing, on the other hand, may be necessary to prevent the progression of gum disease. The procedure removes hard and soft deposits on root surfaces beneath the gum line and smoothes, or planes, root surfaces. It’s often performed under local anesthesia or nitrous oxide, and only by a dentist. For that reason, it costs much more than regular cleaning.
FREQUENCY OF DENTAL X-RAYS
Question: How often should I have dental X-rays? My dentist says every six months is safe, but that strikes me as excessive—and expensive.
Answer: If you’re prone to tooth decay, you might need bitewing X-rays as often as every six months. However, most people with healthy teeth can go one or two years between such X-rays. Full-mouth X-rays are generally needed much less frequently—about once every five years—to assess the overall health of the teeth and supporting tissue in adults. Modern X-ray equipment, as well as a lead apron and collar shield, minimizes the radiation exposure.
FILLINGS AND PINS
Question: When filling cavities in my, my dentist installed pins to hold the fillings in place. Is this a new procedure, and is it beneficial?
Answer: That practice has been around for quite some time. It’s helpful when you’ve lost a good part of the tooth structure. The dentist threads pin into the tooth’s dentin (the layer under the enamel) to serve as a support for the filling.
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