Dental FAQ

Some commonly asked questions and answers from our Chandler Family and Cosmetic Dentists. If you have a more specific question or concern, feel free to contact one of our Chandler Family Dentists and our Phoenix Cosmetic Dentists at Ahwatukee Dentistry. Call us today 480-508-8200.

What is dentistry?

Dentistry is the diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of conditions, disorders, and diseases of the tooth, gums, mouth, and jaw. Often considered necessary for complete oral health, dentistry can have an impact on the health of your entire body.

Who is a dentist?

A dentist is a specialist who works to diagnose, treat, and prevent oral health problems. Your dentist has completed at least eight years of schooling, and received either a DDS (doctor of dental surgery) degree, or a DMD (doctor of dental medicine) degree. If your doctor is a pediatric dentist, this means that they specialize in caring for children from infancy through their teen years. Your dentist has received the proper education and training needed to work with young kids. Other specializations include:

  • Endodontics (root canals)
  • Oral and maxillofacial (including pathology, radiology, and surgery)
  • Orthodontics and dentofacial orthopedics
  • Periodontics (gum disease)
  • Prosthodontics (implants)

Why is visiting the dentist so important?​​​​​​​

Visiting the dentist regularly will not only help keep your teeth and mouth healthy, but will also help keep the rest of your body healthy. Dental care is important because it:

  • Helps prevent tooth decay
  • Protects against periodontal (gum) disease, which can lead to bone and tooth loss
  • Prevents bad breath – brushing, flossing, and seeing the dentist regularly will help reduce the amount of bad-breath causing bacteria in your mouth
  • Gives you a more attractive smile and increases your self-confidence
  • Helps keep teeth looking bright by preventing them from becoming stained by food, drinks, and tobacco
  • Strengthens your teeth so that you can enjoy healthy, beautiful smiles for the rest of your life!

    My teeth feel fine. Do I still need to see a dentist?

    Your teeth may feel fine, but it’s still important to see the dentist regularly because problems can exist without you knowing. Your smile’s appearance is important, and your dentist can help keep your smile healthy and looking beautiful. With so many advances in dentistry, you no longer have to settle for stained, chipped, missing, or misshapen teeth. Today’s dentists offer many treatment choices that can help you smile with confidence, including:

    • Professional teeth whitening
    • Fillings that mimic the appearance of natural teeth
    • Tooth replacement and full smile makeovers

      What should I look for when choosing the right dentist for me?

        Choosing a dentist for you and your family is important, and you may wish to consider several dentists before making your final decision. During your first visit, you should be able to determine if the dentist is right for you. During your appointment, consider the following:

        • Is the appointment schedule convenient?
        • Is the office easy to get to and close by?
        • Does the office appear to be clean and orderly?
        • Was your medical and dental history recorded and placed in a permanent file?
        • Does the dentist explain techniques for good oral health?
        • Is information about cost presented to you before treatment is scheduled?
        • Is your dentist a member of the ADA (American Dental Association)?

          How can I take care of my teeth in between dental checkups?

            • ALWAYS remember to brush your teeth at least twice a day, and floss at least once!
            • Make sure to use toothpaste that contains fluoride, and ask your dentist if you need a fluoride rinse. This will help prevent cavities.
            • Avoid foods with a lot of sugar (sugar increases the amount of bacteria that grows in your mouth causing more plaque and possibly cavities) and avoid tobacco (this can stain your teeth, cause gum disease, and eventually lead to oral cancer)
            • Don’t be afraid to brush your tongue! By brushing your tongue, you will remove food particles and reduce the amount of plaque causing bacteria. Tongue brushing also helps keep your breath fresh.
            • Be sure to schedule your routine checkup. It is recommended that you visit the dentist every six months.

              If I have braces, do I still need dental checkups every six months?

              Yes! In fact, it’s even more important that patients receiving orthodontic treatment visit their dentist regularly. With braces, food may be caught in places that your toothbrush can’t reach. This causes bacteria to build up and can lead to cavities, gingivitis, and gum disease. Your dentist will work closely with your orthodontist to make sure that your teeth stay clean and healthy while wearing braces.

                When should I change my toothbrush?

                Your toothbrush will eventually wear out, especially if you are brushing your teeth twice times a day for 2-3 minutes each time. Your dentist recommends that adults and children should change their toothbrush every three months. If you are using an electric toothbrush, be sure to read the directions as you may not need to change toothbrush heads as frequently. Patients with gum disease are encouraged to change their toothbrush every four to six weeks. After brushing, rinse your toothbrush with hot water to kill germs and keep the bristles clean. If you’ve been sick, be sure to change your toothbrush as soon as possible.

                  What is a filling?

                  A filling is a synthetic material that your dentist uses to fill a cavity after all of the tooth decay has been removed. Fillings do not generally hurt because your dentist will numb your mouth with an anesthetic. Fillings are made from a variety of different materials, including composites, gold, or ceramic. If you need a filling, be sure and talk to your doctor about what type is best for you and your teeth.

                    Does bleaching damage the teeth?

                    No. When carbamide peroxide, the active whitening agent, contacts water, hydrogen peroxide is released which whitens the teeth. Bleaching does not soften, demineralize or weaken the teeth.

                    The most effective teeth whitening techniques available today are in-office laser tooth whitening and at-home teeth whitening with custom-fit trays. Both teeth whitening techniques are best performed under Ahwatukee Dentistry with Dr. Tam’s supervision to ensure the safest results.

                      Do over-the-counter bleaching products work?

                      There is some evidence that over-the-counter bleaching products do whiten teeth, however, many of the products are too abrasive and can damage the teeth with extended use or misuse. Supervision by your dentist is always the safest and most effective way to whiten your teeth.

                        What are porcelain veneers and why are they used?

                        Porcelain veneers are thin shells of ceramic that bond directly to the front surfaces of the teeth. They are an ideal choice for improving your smile and have become increasingly popular due to their simplicity and versatility.

                        Placing custom veneers requires a high degree of technical skill as well as attention to cosmetic detail. We place veneers routinely, and design each case individually to match and enhance the characteristics of each patient’s smile.

                        When bonded to the teeth, the ultra-thin porcelain veneers are virtually undetectable and highly resistant to coffee, tea, or even cigarette stains. For strength and appearance, their resemblance to healthy, white tooth enamel is unsurpassed by other restorative options.

                        With proper care, porcelain veneers will brighten your smile for well over a decade.

                          What causes my jaw to pop when I open it?

                          There is a pad or disk that separates the jaw bone from the base of the skull. The primary cause of the “popping” occurs when you open your mouth too wide and the jaw bone “pops” off the pad or disk. Treatment is not required unless pain is associated with the “pop” or the jaw locks.

                            What is a cavity? What causes tooth decay?

                            A cavity is a small hole that forms inside the tooth and is caused by tooth decay. Cavities are formed when plaque build-up on the outside of the tooth combines with sugars and starches in the food you eat. This can produce an acid that can eat away the enamel on your tooth. If a cavity is left untreated, it can lead to more serious oral health problems. Cavities can be prevented by remembering to brush your teeth at least twice a day and floss in between teeth at least once a day.

                            Tooth decay is caused by plaque in your mouth reacting with sugary and starchy deposits from food. This reaction produces acid which damages the enamel over time and weakens the tooth.

                            Cavities and tooth decay are among the world’s most common health problems. They’re especially common in children, teenagers and older adults. But anyone who has teeth can get cavities, including infants.

                            If cavities aren’t treated, they get larger and affect deeper layers of your teeth. They can lead to severe toothache, infection and tooth loss. Regular dental visits and good brushing and flossing habits go a long way toward preventing cavities and tooth decay.

                              What can be done for ulcers or canker sores in the mouth?

                              Ulcers are very difficult to treat. There is no proven technique that will eliminate ulcers or speed the recovery time once they appear. There are a few medications that will give temporary relief from the pain, but they need to be started as soon as symptoms appear. Ulcers will generally diminish and disappear in 7-10 days.

                                How can I stop grinding my teeth at night?

                                Grinding your teeth can be very damaging to the teeth and also difficult to stop. If vigorous grinding occurs at night, teeth can be worn down to the gumline because the instinctive reflex to stop does not work while you are sleeping. Grinding due to stress can only be cured by removing the stress trigger. If grinding continues, a night guard may be prescribed to prevent ultimate damage to the teeth.

                                  Are there any alternatives to dentures?

                                  Dentures are no longer the only way to restore a mouth that has little or no non-restorable teeth. Strategically placed support, or implants, can now be used to support permanently cemented bridges, eliminating the need for a denture. The cost tends to be greater, but the implants and bridges more closely resemble the “feel” of real teeth. Dental implants are becoming the alternative of choice to dentures, but not everyone is a candidate for implants. Call your dentist for advice.

                                    Are silver fillings, fluoride or x-rays, a danger to my health? What are the alternatives?

                                    Dental amalgam, or silver filling material, is a mixture of mercury, and an alloy of silver, tin and copper. The release of mercury in silver fillings is so small that it is much less than what patients are exposed to in food, air and water. There are, however, other materials that can be used for restorations. These include gold, porcelain, and composite resins.

                                    Fluoride is a compound of the element fluorine, which is found universally throughout nature in water, soil, air and in most foods. Fluoride is absorbed easily into the tooth enamel, especially in children’s growing teeth. Once teeth are developed, fluoride makes the entire tooth structure more resistant to decay and promotes remineralization, which aids in repairing early decay before the damage is visible.

                                    Radiographs, or x-rays, help your dentist determine the presence or degree of periodontal disease, abscesses, and many abnormal growths such as cysts and tumors. They can help pinpoint the location of cavities and other signs of disease that may not be possible to detect through a visual examination. All health care providers are sensitive to patients’ concerns about exposure to radiation. Your dentist has been trained to prescribe radiographs when they are appropriate and to tailor the radiograph schedule to your individual needs. By using state-of-the-art technology, such as digital radiography, and by staying knowledgeable about recent advances, your dentist knows which techniques, procedures and X-ray films can minimize your exposure to radiation.

                                      What are dental implants and how do they work?

                                      Dental implants are substitutes for natural tooth roots and rely on the jawbone for support. Strategically placed, implants can now be used to support permanently cemented bridges, eliminating the need for a denture. The cost tends to be greater, but the implants and bridges more closely resemble real teeth.

                                        What is a root canal?

                                        A root canal is a procedure done to save the damaged or dead pulp in the root canal of the tooth by cleaning out the diseased pulp and reshaping the canal. The canal is filled with gutta percha, a rubberlike material, to prevent re-contamination of the tooth. The tooth is then permanently sealed with possibly a post and/or a gold or porcelain crown. This enables patients to keep the original tooth.

                                          When is the best time to remove wisdom teeth?​​​​​​​

                                          When the removal of wisdom teeth is determined necessary, it is best done when the roots are approximately 2/3rds formed, usually in the adolescent years. Removal at this time allows for an easier procedure and decreases the risk of damage to the nerves in that area.

                                            What is the difference between a cap and a crown?

                                            There is no difference between a cap and a crown.

                                              Why is it important to fix baby teeth that have decay? Aren’t they going to come out soon anyway?​​​​​​​

                                              It is very important to maintain the baby teeth because these teeth hold space for the future eruption of the permanent teeth. If a baby tooth decays or is removed too early, the space necessary for the permanent teeth is lost and can only be regained through orthodontic treatment. Infected baby teeth can cause the permanent teeth to develop improperly resulting in stains, pits and weaker teeth.

                                                When will my child lose his/her baby teeth?

                                                Children will begin losing their teeth around 5 years old. They will usually lose their front teeth first. Children will continue to lose baby teeth until they are 12 or 13 years old, when all of the permanent teeth finally erupt.

                                                  At what age should I start taking my child to see the dentist?

                                                  The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry (AAPD) recommends that children first see a dentist as early as six-months-old and no later than one-year-old. During this time, your child’s baby teeth will be coming in and your dentist can examine the health of your child’s first few teeth. After the first visit, be sure and schedule regular checkups every six months.

                                                    When does thumb-sucking become damaging to the teeth?

                                                    Generally, if the child has stopped sucking his/her thumb by age 5 there is no permanent damage. If the child is a vigorous and constant thumbsucker, however, there can be moderate to severe movement of teeth and prevention of normal bone growth.

                                                      Should my child wear a mouth guard while playing sports?​​​​​​​

                                                      It is strongly recommended that children wear a mouth guard while playing any contact sport. It is always better to prevent an injury than to repair one. The earlier a child begins to wear the mouth guard, the easier it is to become comfortable and continue to wear it as they get older.

                                                        What should I do if my child gets a tooth knocked out?

                                                        If the tooth is a permanent tooth, time is extremely crucial. Immediately stick the tooth back in the socket. Don’t worry about getting it in straight or having it turned backwards, just get it in the socket and immediately call your dentist. If you are uncomfortable placing the tooth in the socket, put it in a glass of milk and get your child to the dentist as quickly as possible. If the tooth is a baby tooth, do not put it in the socket because damage to the permanent tooth can occur. When in doubt, put the tooth in milk and see your dentist immediately.

                                                          What is gum disease?

                                                          Also known as periodontal disease, gum disease is mostly caused by plaque and bacteria buildup that is not treated in its early stage. Other causes of periodontal disease include tobacco use, teeth grinding, some medications, and genetics. Gingivitis is the beginning stage of gum disease, and, if detected, is treatable. Gingivitis left untreated may turn into gum disease. Advanced gum disease will lead to bone and tooth loss, and is a permanent condition. Brushing your teeth regularly, and visiting the dentist every six months will help prevent gingivitis and more severe cases of periodontal disease. Common signs of gum disease:

                                                          • Red, irritated, bleeding, or swollen gums
                                                          • Chronic bad breath
                                                          • Loose teeth, or loss of teeth
                                                          • Extreme tooth sensitivity
                                                          • Receding gum line
                                                          • Abscessed teeth

                                                            Do water irrigation systems replace the need for flossing?

                                                            Water irrigation systems should not be used as a substitute for brushing and flossing. These devices are effective in removing retained food from hard to reach areas, but do not remove plaque. Dentists frequently recommend these devices with the addition of antibacterial solutions to maintain the oral health of periodontal patients.

                                                              What is root planning and why is it done?

                                                              Root planning is a technique performed in a dental office to stop the adverse effect of periodontal disease. The procedure cleans below the gumline and smooth’s the roots. When the roots are smoothed, the gums will usually reattach to the root stopping the bacteria from spreading. This stops and reverses some of the damage done by periodontal disease.

                                                                My gums bleed when I brush, what does it mean?

                                                                Bleeding gums is an early indicator of gingivitis, or swollen gums, usually caused by plaque and/or calculus accumulated under the gumline. If left untreated, gingivitis can lead to bone loss and eventual tooth loss. Gingivitis can be reversed by proper brushing and flossing within a few weeks. If bleeding persists two to three weeks, consult your dentist.

                                                                  How often should I see my dentist?

                                                                  You should visit your dentist at least every six months or more frequently to get your teeth cleaned. By seeing your dentist twice a year, your dentist can monitor your oral health and help you prevent any problems that may arise before they became uncomfortable or require more comprehensive or expensive treatment. The dentist will help determine how often you should visit the dentist for regular checkups.

                                                                    What causes bad breath and what can be done about it?

                                                                    Bad breath, or halitosis, is primarily caused by poor oral hygiene, but can also can be caused by retained food particles, gum disease, drainage from sinus dripping or systemic, respiratory or gastrointestinal problems. Proper brushing including brushing the tongue, cheeks, and the roof of the mouth will remove bacteria and food particles. Flossing removes accumulated bacteria, plaque and food that may be trapped between teeth. Mouth rinses are effective in temporary relief of bad breath. Consult your dentist and/or physician if the condition persists.