How safe are dental X-rays?
» Exposure to all sources of radiation – including the sun, minerals in the soil, appliances in your home, and dental X-rays – can damage the body’s tissues and cells and can lead to the development of cancer in some instances. Fortunately, the dose of radiation you are exposed to during the taking of X-rays is extremely small.
Advances in dentistry over the years have lead to the low radiation levels emitted by today’s X-ray’s. Some of the improvements are new digital X-ray machines that limit the radiation beam to the small area being X-rayed, higher speed X-ray films that require shorter exposure time compared with older film speeds to get the same results, and the use of film holders that keep the film in place in the mouth (which prevents the film from slipping and the need for repeat X-rays and additional radiation exposure. Also, the use of lead-lined, full-body aprons protects the body from stray radiation (though this is almost nonexistent with modern dental X-ray machines.) In addition, federal law requires that X-ray machines be checked for accuracy and safety every two years, with some states requiring more frequent checks.
What are dental sealants, who should get them, and how long do they last?
» Sealants are a thin, plastic coating that is painted on the chewing surfaces of teeth – usually the back teeth (premolars, and molars) – to prevent tooth decay. The painted on liquid sealant quickly bonds into the depressions and grooves of the teeth forming a protective shield over the enamel of each tooth.
Typically, children should get sealants on their permanent molars and premolars as soon as these teeth come in. In this way, the dental sealants can protect the teeth through the cavity-prone years of ages 6 to 14. However, adults without decay or fillings in their molars can also benefit from sealants.
Sealants can protect the teeth from decay for up to 10 years, but they need to be checked for chipping or wear at regular dental check-ups.
I’m interested in changing the shape of my teeth. What options are available?
» Several different options are available to change the shape of teeth, make teeth look longer, close spaces between teeth or repair chipped or cracked teeth. Among the options are bonding, crowns, veneers, and re-contouring.
• Dental bonding is a procedure in which a tooth-colored resin material (a durable plastic material) is applied to the tooth surface and hardened with a special light, which ultimately “bonds” the material to the tooth.
• Dental crowns are tooth-shaped “caps” that are placed over teeth. The crowns, when cemented into place, fully encase the entire visible portion of a tooth that lies at and above the gum line.
• Veneers (also sometimes called porcelain veneers or dental porcelain laminates) are wafer-thin, custom-made shells of tooth-colored materials that are designed to cover the front surface of teeth. These shells are bonded to the front of the teeth.
• Re-contouring or reshaping for the teeth (also called odontoplasty, enameloplasty, stripping, or slenderizing) is a procedure in which small amounts of tooth enamel are removed to change a tooth’s length, shape or surface.
Each of these options differ with regard to cost, durability, “chair time” necessary to complete the procedure, stain resistant qualities, and best cosmetic approach to resolving a specific problem. Talk to your dentist to see if one is right for you.
There are so many toothpastes to choose from; how do I know which one to use?
» Here’s some advice. First, when purchasing toothpaste for you or your child, select one that contains fluoride. Fluoride-containing toothpastes have been shown to prevent cavities. However, one word of caution: check the manufacturer’s label; some toothpaste is not recommended for children under age 6. This is because young children swallow toothpaste and swallowing too much fluoride can lead to tooth discoloration in permanent teeth.
It is also wise to select a product approved by the American Dental Association. The ADA’s Seal of Acceptance means that the product has met ADA criteria for safety and effectiveness and that packaging and advertising claims are scientifically supported. Some manufacturers choose not to seek the ADA’s Seal of Acceptance. Although these products may be safe and effective, these products’ performance have not been evaluated or endorsed by the ADA.
Next, when considering other properties of toothpaste – such as whitening toothpastes, tartar-control, gum care, desensitizing, etc. – the best advice for selecting among these products may be to simply ask your dental hygienist or dentist what the greatest concerns are for your mouth at this time. After consulting with your dentist or hygienist about your oral health’s greatest needs, look for products within that category (for example, within the tartar control brands or within the desensitizing toothpaste brands) that have received the ADA Seal of Acceptance.
Finally, some degree of personal preference comes into play. Choose the toothpaste that tastes and feels best. Gel or paste, wintergreen or spearmint all work alike. If you find that certain ingredients are irritation to your teeth, cheeks or lips, or if your teeth have become more sensitive, or if your mouth is irritated after brushing, try changing toothpastes. If the problem continues, see your dentist.