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Patient Education

Frequently Asked Questions About Dental Health

We want to answer any questions you might have about your oral care or upcoming dental visit. Take a look at our most frequently asked questions and make the most of your next dental visit.  Please feel free to call our office with any additional questions not listed here.

Dental Radiographs

  • Dental radiographs (often called x-rays) are an important part of your routine dental care. Along with an oral examination, they provide your dentist with a more complete view of what’s happening in your mouth, including the teeth, bones, and soft tissues. Without them, your dental team could potentially miss diagnosing many issues, including cavities, dental infections, diseases of the bone, developmental disorders, cysts and tumors.
  • Radiograph shows the entire tooth including the nerve, as well as the surround ligament and bone.
  • Usually taken to diagnose a specific problem, or in a Full Mouth Series of Radiographs (see below).
  • A set of 2 or 4 x-rays that show the posterior teeth.
  • Taken yearly
  • Used to diagnose changes in the teeth and surrounding tissues.
Full Mouth Series
  • A set of 18 x-rays, comprised of both bitewings and periapicals.
  • Usually taken at initial visit, then every 5 years afterwards.
  • Show much more detail than a set of bitewings, including the entire tooth, nerves, part of the jaw bones, and the sinus floor.
Panoramic Radiographs
  • A two-dimensional dental x-ray that captures the entire mouth in a single image, including teeth, upper and lower jaws and the surrounding structures and tissues, such as the joint and sinuses.
  • Can reveal advanced periodontal disease, cysts in the jaw bones, jaw tumors. and oral cancer, impacted wisdom teeth, jaw disorders, and sinusitis.
  • Dentists follow the ALARA principle, which stands for “As Low As Reasonably Achievable,” when obtaining radiographs. This radiation safety principle limits your exposure.
  • Lead apron and thyroid collars help to limit radiation to your thyroid gland (in your neck) as well as your internal organs.
  • The x-ray beam is limited to the size of the image receptor whenever possible.
  • Digital sensors significantly reduce your exposure compared to traditional film.
  • The use of proper exposure and processing techniques.
  • The amount of radiation that you receive from dental x-rays is often much lower than you would get from everyday activities. For example, the amount of radiation of a single x-ray is equivalent to eating two bananas and having a full mouth series (18 x-rays, usually done every 5 years) is a third of the radiation that you receive from your normal daily environmental radiation exposure (cell phones, sunlight, etc).

Dental Cavities

  • Cavities are permanently damaged areas in the hard surface of your teeth that develop into tiny openings or holes. Also known as tooth decay or caries, cavities are caused by a combination of factors, including your oral hygiene, diet, and the bacteria in your mouth. The bacteria in your mouth feed on sugary or starchy foods or drinks, and then convert these carbohydrates into acids. The bacteria, acids, food and saliva mix to form a substance known as plaque. If not regularly removed from the teeth, plaque will erode tooth enamel and cause cavities.
  • Smooth surface: This slow-growing cavity dissolves tooth enamel and commonly occurs between adjacent teeth (known as interproximal caries).
  • Pit and fissure decay: Cavities form on the top part of the tooth’s chewing surface in deep grooves and pits. Decay also can affect the front side of back teeth. Pit and fissure decay tends to start during the teenage years and progresses quickly.
  • Root decay: Older adults who have receding gums are more prone to root decay. Gum recession exposes the tooth’s root to plaque and acid. These cavities can be difficult to prevent and treat
  • Diet high in surgery or starchy foods and drinks, such as chips, candy, or soda
  • Poor oral hygiene
  • Family history
  • Certain medications, including antidepressants
  • Dry mouth
  • Receding gums
  • Previous radiation therapy to treat head and neck cancers
  • Regular dental check-ups and cleanings
  • Good home care, including regular daily brushing and flossing
  • Limiting quantity and frequency of surgery or starchy foods and drinks
  • Sealants
  • Fluoride
  • Very often, cavities are asymptomatic until they progress through the enamel layer into the underlying layer of dentin. Once this occurs, the cavity begins to progress more quickly and can cause sensitivity.
  • Early signs of a cavity cause a sensitivity to sweets or cold.
  • As the cavity gets larger and gets closer to the nerve of the tooth, you may notice a sensitivity to hot foods and drinks or pain when biting or chewing. The sensitivity may linger after the stimulus is gone.
  • Once the cavity progresses to the point that it has infected the nerve of the tooth, you may experience:
      • Severe aching or throbbing pain
      • Random pain, that may awake you at night
      • Pain when biting or chewing
      • Swelling of the mouth or face
      • Bleeding gums


  • Flouride treatments can repair tooth enamel through a process called remineralization if caught in the very early stages when the cavity is still confined to the enamel layer.
  • You may need prescription toothpaste and mouthwash, as well as fluoride treatments at the dental office.


Root canal 

  • If the cavity has progressed to the point that it has infected the nerve of the tooth, a root canal is necessary to prevent further pain and infection. The cavity, as well as the infected nerve tissue is removed, the canals of the tooth are disinfected and sealed, and a crown is placed to protect the tooth.

Tooth extraction 

  • If a root canal isn’t possible or the cavity has progressed to the point that the tooth cannot be repaired, the tooth may need to be extracted. The missing tooth can then be replaced with an implant, fixed bridge, or removable partial

Dental Infections

  • A Dental Abscess is a pocket of pus from a bacterial infection that forms around a tooth. It can affect not only the tooth, but also the surrounding soft tissues, bone, and adjacent teeth.


  • This infection develops in the gums and does not usually affect the tooth or supporting structures.
  • Can be caused by food impaction or poor oral hygiene.
  • Usually treated by removing the source of infection, cleaning and disinfecting the area, and possibly antibiotics.



  • A periapical abscess is an infection that forms at the tip of the root of a tooth.
  • This occurs when bacteria from the inside of the tooth (caused by a cavity or fracture) spreads to the pulp, or nerve, of the tooth. After the bacteria invades the pulp, it will eventually spread to the tip of the tooth’s root causing the infection to spread to the surrounding bone, leading to an abscess.
  • Treatments include antibiotics and either Root Canal Therapy or Extraction depending on the condition of the tooth and size of the infection.



  • This infection starts in bone and tissues that support the tooth, usually resulting from periodontitis or gum disease.
  • Often does not involve the nerve of the tooth, but may in some cases.
  • Treatments may include antibiotics and either scaling and root planing to remove the source of the infection and drain the pus or possibly Extraction depending on the condition of the tooth and surrounding soft tissues and bone.
  • Pain that can be sharp or shooting, achy and throbbing, continuous or only when chewing, or radiating to the face, jaw or neck
  • Redness or swelling of the gums
  • Bleeding when brushing, flossing, or eating
  • Tooth sensitivity to temperature or biting
  • Loosening of the tooth
  • Bitter taste in mouth or foul smelling breath
  • Swelling in the upper or lower jaws, or glands of the neck
  • Fever
  • You should call your dentist immediately upon noticing any signs or symptoms of infection. In some cases, the pain may stop if the nerve inside the tooth dies or if the infection is draining on its own. However, the infection will still be present and will continue to spread and destroy surrounding bone.