Frequently Asked Questions About Dental Health

When do I need my wisdom teeth taken out?

Wisdom teeth is the lay term for your 3rd molars. Most people have four wisdom teeth. They are the last teeth to erupt into your mouth and quite often there is not enough space for them to align properly with your other teeth. If there is not enough room, the wisdom teeth can become impacted which means they are growing into the mouth at an incorrect angle. When this occurs the tooth either does not manage to grow through the gum or only partially erupts into the mouth and there is usually a flap of gum tissue covering part of the tooth if this occurs. This traps a lot of food and bacteria making it susceptible to decay and infections. These infections often become an ongoing problem if the impacted wisdom teeth are left in the mouth. Other problems that can arise from impacted wisdom teeth are decay on adjacent teeth and the formation of cysts which is an uncommon but more serious issue.
To get a better idea of the position of the wisdom teeth a panorex x-ray will be taken which will determine the position of the teeth as well as the proximity to other important anatomical structures such as sinuses and nerves.
It is best to remove wisdom teeth which are likely to cause problems in the future, at an early age. This is because the bone is more resilient and people tend to have less post-operative problems.

Why do I need my teeth cleaned?

This varies depending on your risk for gum disease, or more technically, periodontal disease. During a clean at the dental clinic, a scaler is used to remove tartar and plaque from your teeth both above and below the gums. Tartar is the hard deposit which sticks onto your teeth and is like a barnacle on a rock as it doesn’t come off easily, for instance with tooth brushing. It is important to visit the hygienist to remove this tartar as it can cause gum disease by accumulating plaque. The body reacts to tartar and plaque first by inflammation of the gums and later by the loss of bone which supports the teeth. If bone loss does occur, this often leaves “pockets” which will get bigger if it is not cleaned regularly and can eventually lead to loss of teeth.
Depending on the amount of bone loss present and the rate at which tartar builds up, the hygienist will decide how often you should come in for the cleans. Other risk factors such as smoking and medical conditions (such as diabetes) are also taken into account.

Do you still do silver fillings?

Silver fillings (amalgam) is an alloy of mercury and various other metals including silver, tin and copper. For small or moderate sized fillings, we tend to use tooth-coloured composite resin. It blends with the tooth much better and it can bond to the tooth which means we don’t have to drill away as much tooth compared with an amalgam filling. A common problem we find with moderate, or even small, sized amalgam fillings is that over time it leads to stress fractures on these teeth. However, in some situations amalgam may work better, for example, if the filling is under the gum or if it is not possible to keep the site dry when placing the filling.
If the tooth is very compromised and would require a very large filling to be placed,a crown will be recommended by the dentist.

Why do I need a crown?

A crown is a cap which is made of porcelain or gold and serves to mechanically protect a structurally weakened tooth. A tooth can become weakened from decay, fractures and wear. By placing a crown we prevent flexure of the remaining tooth and this will help avoid the remaining tooth fracturing or existing fractures to propagate. In the case of wear, crowns can be used to restore your teeth back to your original bite.
Crowns can also be used in cosmetic dental cases to change the appearance of your existing teeth

How safe are dental radiographs (x-rays)?

Dental radiographs form a vital part of diagnosis in dentistry. Not only does it allow us to investigate what is occurring in between your teeth, it also allows us to observe tooth roots, bone and other nearby anatomical structures. If radiographs were not taken routinely dental disease would take longer to diagnose and would mean treatment would start at a later stage. People would have a lot more problems with their teeth!
X-rays are a form of electromagnetic radiation and like UV radiation emitted from the sun or natural background radiation, xrays are classed as ionising radiation. Ionising radiation can cause damage of cells in your body which can lead to the development of cancer. Fortunately, the levels of radiation used to take dental radiographs is very small.
Over the years, improvements in dental radiography have allowed shorter exposure times as well as newer machines being able to focus the x-ray beam to include only the small area being investigated. Furthermore, x-ray holders are used to avoid having to retake radiographs. This all results in the low radiation levels.
However, it is important to remember that even though we are dealing with extremely low doses of radiation, they do add up over time and can cause damage. This is why radiographs are only taken when deemed necessary (when the benefits of taking them outweigh the risks).