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Frequently Asked Questions 

Hewlett Family Dental has the answers to the most commonly asked dental questions. If you have a question that is not addressed here, let us know!


What causes bad breath?
Bad breath is generally a result of dental decay and periodontitis, a disease affecting the gums and bone. Periodontitis occurs when the gums become inflamed and infected, ultimately spreading pockets of plaque and tartar from the gums to the bone that supports the teeth. The teeth may become loose and eventually fall out if left untreated.
Periodontitis is treatable, but good oral hygiene is the best method of avoiding this problem.

How do I repair a cracked tooth?

Teeth can crack or chip for a variety of reasons. Especially if they are subjected to chewing hard foods or biting on an unexpectedly hard object, or if teeth have been subjected to large restorations.
You may also experience painful chewing, unsolicited pain or discomfort due to cold air.
Most cracks can be repaired using resin, just like they do for filling cavities. If the tooth is not restorable with resin, you may need a crown. Once the crown is placed, the pain usually leaves. For complex cracks that fracture into the tooth pulp, a root canal may be needed before the crown is placed.

Is tooth bleaching safe?

Teeth may be stained or discolored for a variety of reasons. If you want to make them brighter and whiter, you can do so safely. There are several options to choose from. You can visit your dentist for whitening treatments or try at-home whitening products. While there are some side effects from teeth whitening, most conventional whitening treatments are safe to use as long as you follow the product’s directions.

What are porcelain veneers?

You can change the shape, color and length of your teeth using veneers. They are thin, durable shells designed to cover the front of the tooth. They are typically made of porcelain and are extremely durable, stain resistant, natural-looking and easy to maintain.
Veneers are custom-fitted to your teeth by removing a small amount of enamel and bonding the veneer to your teeth using a safe, high tech polymer resin. You can expect veneers to stay bright and strong for many years by performing good oral hygiene. They will not whiten however. 

Can I just get a bigger filling instead of a crown?

Teeth are often restored using resin, however, when too much of a tooth’s structure is removed to support a filling, a crown or “cap” may be needed. A crown may be needed to:
  • Restore a tooth when it is unable to support a large filling.
  • Attach bridges.
  • Protect a weak tooth from fracturing or restore fractured teeth.
  • Cover badly shaped or discolored teeth.
  • Cover dental implants.
A crown essentially covers a tooth to restore it to its natural shape and size. This permanent covering fits over your original tooth to strengthen or improve the appearance of the tooth. Fitting a crown generally requires at least two visits to the dentist’s office- 1st visit to prep the tooth and seat a temporary crown that will closely resemble your real tooth. 2nd visit will be to seat the permanent crown that the lab makes to match your tooth shape and shade.

Should I replace silver-mercury fillings?

Until recently, dentists used an inexpensive silver and mercury amalgam to fill and seal cavities. Because silver fillings do not bond to a tooth, a chamber must be cut into the tooth that is larger than the exterior. This “undercut” keeps the filling in the tooth. Because a larger amount of the original tooth must be removed, these types of fillings often weaken teeth.
Recent innovations now allow us to replace old silver fillings with composite or porcelain fillings that are stronger, safer and more natural looking. Unlike silver fillings, composite fillings bond to the tooth and provide more protection from fracturing. The quartz-like material is layered into the tooth and hardened with highly intense visible light.
The final surface is shaped and polished to match the tooth, making it virtually invisible to the naked eye. It is a personal preference to replace them.

What do I do if my tooth is loose or knocked out?

If the tooth is loose, but still in the socket, leave it in place and see your dentist immediately. If it has been knocked out, pick it up by the crown, not the root. Gently rinse, but do not scrub it or attempt to dry it off. If possible, gently push it into the socket or place it in a glass of milk. Do not let the tooth dry out! Time is of the essence; see a dentist within 30 minutes.

How do I manage dry mouth?

More seniors today have retained their own teeth, avoiding the trauma of removable dentures. Many are on medications creating dryness of the mouth as a side effect. Without the natural benefit of saliva to decrease bacterial action, we see an increase of cavities on the root surfaces of these patients. Anyone on a medication causing a dry mouth effect should be encouraged to see their dentist for regular dental cleanings and topical fluoride rinses.

What is periodontal disease?

Periodontal (gum) disease is a serious chronic bacterial infection that affects the gums and bones of the mouth. Gum disease generally starts when plaque forms around the teeth, inflaming the gums. The gums swell and bleed easily. Early stages of gingivitis are reversible with treatment by a dentist. However, untreated gum disease will eventually lead to periodontitis, an infection that moves below the gum line and attacks the tissue and bone supporting the teeth. As the infection progresses, tissue and bone are destroyed, and teeth become loose and must be removed.
The second, third, and fourth stages are initial, moderate, and advanced “periodontal disease”, respectively. These stages are different from gingivitis because the infection has destroyed the bone supporting the teeth, causing eventual tooth loss. The treatment is more involved at these stages, usually consisting of a special cleaning with anesthesia and sometimes gum surgery. Periodontal disease can go on for years without pain and without detection unless specific examination procedures are performed. Visual oral examination by itself (even by a dentist) will not reliably detect periodontal disease until it has reached an advanced stage.
Early detection and adequate diagnosis require measurement of pockets (the crevice between the tooth and gum) with a periodontal probe. Effective prevention and treatment is available, but the damage caused as the disease progresses is irreversible. Early detection and treatment is critical to prevent tooth loss and disfigurement.

What are dental implants?

The loss of just a single tooth can set a course that can destroy an entire mouth. Teeth will drift and tip into a space that is created by missing teeth. When you lose a tooth, a dental implant may be needed to replace the tooth root and crown. Dental implants are simply “anchors” that permanently support replacement teeth. They are secure and durable and can be cleaned and cared for much like your natural teeth.
The procedure requires a titanium root be fitted into your jaw to replace the lost tooth’s root. Once the implant is anchored into the bone, the bone around the implant requires six weeks to six months of healing. Once the bone has healed, a support post and replacement tooth is anchored onto the implant.

What should I do if I lose a tooth?

Losing a tooth by accident or by extraction is not the end of the matter. When a tooth is missing, the resulting gap will allow nearby teeth to tilt or drift from their normal position, and the teeth above the gap will move downward. Aside from the obvious cosmetic problem, the changed positions of these teeth can lead to severe bite problems causing jaw pain and headaches.
Missing teeth should be replaced to keep other teeth in their normal position. This can be done by means of a fixed bridge or a dental implant. Both of these treatments offer a good functional and cosmetic result.

What is tooth decay?

Tooth decay occurs when bacteria in dental plaque damages the enamel of your teeth, leaving a hole or cavity. Any part of a tooth can decay, from the roots below the gum line to the chewing surface. If plaque bacteria reach and damage the pulp, the tooth will likely die, because the pulp contains nerves and blood vessels that supply the tooth. Tooth decay can occur due to a number of issues, including poor brushing and flossing habits, diets rich in sugar, the presence of risk factors such as smoking and lack of fluoride in the water supply.

Links to More Information

If you would like more information about general dental health or dental topics, these web sites provide a wealth of consumer information and tools.


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