Frequently Asked Questions

Do I really have to go to the dentist every six months?


Ask yourself the following questions: - Do I floss every day? - Do I brush twice a day with a fluoride toothpaste and follow my dentist's instructions on how to brush properly? - Do I eat a well-balanced diet, including food from all food groups, and limit sweets and sticky foods? - Do I smoke? - Do I have a history of cavities or gum disease? - Is my overall health good? The answers to these questions are all factors that affect your oral health. They will help you and your dentist decide how often you need to visit for dental exams. It's worth noting that you should not determine your need for dental care on what your dental plan covers.




Does my dentist need to wear gloves and a mask, and how do I know he or she is using clean tools?


Your health is very important to your dentist. One of the ways that your dentist helps you stay healthy is by preventing the spread of germs. One of the best ways to do this is to use barrier protection such as gloves and masks. Your dentist and other dental team members also wash their hands regularly. In addition, they sterilize equipment used in the dental office and clean the furniture and fixtures in the examining rooms. This system is referred to as "standard precautions." It means that every patient is treated in the same way because patients don't always know if they're sick. It's always better to be safe than sorry. If you would like to know how this system is carried out in your dentist's office, ask to be shown how it's done. Dentists welcome the opportunity to ease their patients' concerns, rather than have them leave the office with unanswered questions. Once you see the work that goes into making the dental office a clean and safe environment, you will feel reassured. It is worth noting that even though standard precautions are used, it is still important to tell your dentist of changes in your health. This will help your dentist suggest the right choices of treatment for you.




When should I take my child to the dentist for the first time?


It's important to get an early start on dental care, so that your child will learn that visiting the dentist is a regular part of health care. The first step is to choose a dentist for your child. It may be your own dentist or one who specializes in treating children (called a pediatric dentist). Once you have selected a dentist, call the office to find out at what age he or she prefers to see child patients for the first time. CDA encourages the assessment of infants, by a dentist, within 6 months of the eruption of the first tooth or by one year of age. It's important to make the first visit a positive experience for your child - one reason why it's best to visit before a problem develops. If you think there is a problem, however, take your child to the dentist right away, no matter what age. If you are a nervous dental patient, ask your spouse or another family member to take the child for the appointment. If your child senses that you are nervous, he or she may feel nervous too. When you talk to your child about going to the dentist, explain what will happen without adding things like "it won't hurt" or "don't be scared." Be sure to get an early start on regular dental care at home. Start cleaning your child's mouth with a soft damp cloth before teeth come in and continue with a soft toothbrush once he or she has a first tooth. Limit the number of sugary treats you give your child, and focus on healthy food choices from the very beginning.




Why doesn't my dentist just accept payment from my insurance company? I don't have dental insurance and can't afford to go to the dentist. What can I do and why does dentistry cost so much anyway?


Dental plans, offered by many employers, are a means to help you pay for your dental treatment. Most Canadians enjoy dental plans and the insurance companies that provide them are actually benefit carriers. Carriers reimburse patients based on the level of coverage decided by the patient's employer. When you visit the dentist, it's the dentist's role to make a treatment plan based on your oral health needs. Your needs may be different from what is covered by your dental plan. It is your right to decide whether or not to go ahead with any treatment. You should not decide based on what your plan covers. If you agree to have the treatment, it's your responsibility to pay for it. It is the responsibility of the benefits carrier's to reimburse you for the amount covered by your dental plan. Many dentists are willing to contact a patient's benefits carrier, on a patient's behalf, to find out if a treatment is covered. The patient has to pay the portion that's not covered and the dentist may offer a payment plan to help.




I don't have dental insurance and can't afford to go to the dentist. What can I do and why does dentistry cost so much anyway?


If you do not have a dental plan and cannot afford to pay your entire bill at once, ask your dentist about a payment plan. If you cannot afford care, even with a payment plan, contact the nearest: - Social services agency to see if you qualify for government-funded dental care - Dental school where senior dental students provide treatment at a reduced cost Dental services may seem expensive. In Canada, we don't have to pay directly when we visit a doctor or hospital, so we may not realize the high cost of providing health services. Overhead costs are high for dentists. They have staff, equipment and other operating costs. The good news is that you can avoid costly dental treatment by brushing, flossing and visiting your dentist regularly for a dental exams. Regular dental exams cost money, but they are less expensive than fixing serious dental problems that stem from neglect.




What's the difference between the bleaching I can do at home with a kit from the store and the bleaching that my dentist does?


Dentists have been doing what's called "non-vital" bleaching for many years. Non-vital bleaching is done on a damaged, darkened tooth that has had root canal treatment. "Vital" bleaching is done on healthy teeth and has become more popular in recent years. Vital bleaching, also called whitening, may be carried out in the dental office or the dentist may instruct the patient on how to do the bleaching at home. There is also a wide variety of products for sale in stores. Not all products are the same and not all give you the same results. Different products, including those used by dentists, may also have different risks and side effects. Here is an overview: Whitening toothpastes with abrasive ingredients are really not bleaching products at all, but work on surface stain only. These products are sold in many stores. Some whitening toothpastes do contain a chemical ingredient (or "bleach") that causes a chemical reaction to lighten teeth. Generally, they have the lowest amount of "bleach." They may not whiten as well as stronger products, but they have less chance of side effects. These pastes are brushed onto teeth and rinsed off, like regular toothpaste. Bleaching kits sold in stores stay on your teeth longer than toothpaste and contain stronger "bleach". These store-bought products do not come with the added safety of having your dentist monitor any side effects. They also come with a one-size-fits-all tray that holds the "bleach" and is more likely to leak the chemical into your mouth. Dentists may use products with stronger "bleach", but they give patients careful instructions to follow. They are also trained to spot and treat the side effects that patients sometimes report during bleaching. In addition, if a tray is needed to apply the "bleach", dentists supply custom-made trays. Because products used by dentists are strong, they tend to produce the best results. Patients should be aware that the long-term use of whitening or bleaching products may cause tooth sensitivity or tooth abrasion. Please consult with your dentist before using a whitening or bleaching product.




How common is gum disease?


Gum disease begins when plaque adheres at and below the visible edge of your gums. If plaque is not removed every day by brushing and flossing, it hardens into tartar (also called calculus). Tartar promotes a bacterial infection at the point of attachment. In these early stages, gum disease is called gingivitis. Your gums may be a bit red, but you may not notice anything. As gingivitis gets more serious, tiny pockets of infection form. Your gums may be puffy and may bleed a little when you brush, but it is not painful. Over time, the infection destroys the gum tissue. Eventually, you may be at risk of losing one or more teeth.




How does gum disease get started?


Gum disease begins when plaque adheres at and below the visible edge of your gums. If plaque is not removed every day by brushing and flossing, it hardens into tartar (also called calculus). Tartar promotes a bacterial infection at the point of attachment. In these early stages, gum disease is called gingivitis. Your gums may be a bit red, but you may not notice anything. As gingivitis gets more serious, tiny pockets of infection form. Your gums may be puffy and may bleed a little when you brush, but it is not painful. Over time, the infection destroys the gum tissue. Eventually, you may be at risk of losing one or more teeth.




How can I prevent gum disease?


Prevention is the most important factor in the fight against gum disease. It is essential to keep your teeth and gums clean. Brush your teeth properly at least twice a day and floss at least once every 24 hours. Using proper brushing and flossing techniques is equally important. Be sure to see your dentist regularly for professional cleaning and dental exams, so that he or she can detect any early signs of gum disease, and provide appropriate treatment.




How can I tell if I'm brushing and flossing properly?


Brushing: Brush your teeth gently, paying special attention to the areas where your teeth and gums meet. Clean every surface of every tooth. Use the tip of your brush to clean behind your upper and lower front teeth. Flossing: Take a piece of floss about 18 inches long and wrap it around your middle fingers. Using a clean section of floss each time, wrap the floss into a C shape around a tooth. Wipe it over the tooth, from base to tip, a couple of times. Repeat on each tooth.




What if I am already in the early stages of gum disease?


If you have gum disease, getting rid of plaque and tartar gives your gums a chance to get better. That's why in the early stages of gum disease, the best treatment is: Cleaning by your dentist or dental hygienist to remove built-up tartar, brushing twice a day to remove plaque and flossing once a day to remove plaque. When gum disease is more serious, your dentist may refer you to a dental specialist called a periodontist. A periodontist has a least three years of extra university training in treating gum disease, and in restoring (or regenerating) bone and gum tissue that have been lost because of gum disease. A periodontist also treats serious forms of gum disease that do not get better with normal dental care. When serious gum disease is found, brushing and flossing become even more important.




What is fluoride?


Fluoride is a mineral found in soil, water (both fresh and salt) and various foods. Fluoride has a positive effect on oral health by making teeth more resistant to decay. Fluoride can also prevent or even reverse tooth decay that has started. For many Canadians, fluoride is in public drinking water, which provides protection to the entire community. Fluoride toothpastes and rinses are available for purchase, and your dentist can provide professional fluoride products such as gels and varnish.




Should I be using fluoridated toothpaste with my child?


For children from birth to 3 years of age, the use of fluoridated toothpaste is determined by the level of risk of tooth decay. Parents should consult a health professional to determine whether their child up to 3 years of age is at risk of developing tooth decay. If such a risk exists, the child’s teeth should be brushed by an adult using a minimal amount (a portion the size of a grain of rice) of fluoridated toothpaste. Use of fluoridated toothpaste in a small amount has been determined to achieve a balance between the benefits of fluoride and the risk of developing fluorosis. If the child is not considered to be at risk, the teeth should be brushed by an adult using a toothbrush moistened only with water. For children from 3 to 6 years of age, only a small amount (a portion the size of a green pea) of fluoridated toothpaste should be used. Children in this age group should be assisted by an adult in brushing their teeth.




Why do young children need to be assisted or supervised with tooth brushing?


Young children tend to swallow toothpaste when they are brushing, which may increase their exposure to fluoride and contribute to dental fluorosis. For this reason, children need to be assisted or supervised with tooth brushing. An adult needs to ensure that an appropriate amount of toothpaste is used, that the child spits out the toothpaste rather than swallows it, and that the teeth are cleaned effectively.




What is dental fluorosis?


Dental fluorosis is a change in the appearance of teeth. It is caused when higher than optimal amounts of fluoride are ingested in early childhood. In its mildest and most common form, it affects the look of the tooth with small white specks appearing on a child’s teeth.





Answers courtesy of the Canadian Dental Association.