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Dentists Answer 7 Common Questions About Your Teeth


Do tooth whiteners work? Why brush twice a day? Read on for expert answers to seven curious questions about your teeth!

Do over-the-counter tooth whiteners work?

A. Yes. How white your teeth get depends on:

  1. The type of stains on your teeth. Stains can be on a tooth’s surface or in its pores. You can remove the ones on the surface with a whitening toothpaste. You’ll need chemical bleaching to get rid of the other kind. In addition, yellow stains bleach better than brown or gray ones.
  2. The percentage of active ingredient in the chemical bleach you’re using. A dentist may use a stronger version than one you’d buy at the supermarket; however, that can be offset by …
  3. The amount of time the chemical is in contact with your teeth. The more peroxide, the less time it takes to whiten your teeth (and the more likely it is to make your teeth sensitive—but probably only for the duration of the treatment).

You may have heard of whitening laser treatments. The American Dental Association does not endorse any of these.

Q. Why brush your teeth twice a day?
toothbrush-questionA. Though the American Dental Association recommends brushing twice a day, I contend that there’s really no scientific proof that advocates this. Evidence shows that you only need to break the biofilm (otherwise known as plaque or bacteria) in your mouth once every 24 hours in order to prevent gingivitis or periodontal disease.

I would say that brushing twice a day is a precautionary measure in case you don’t brush as well as you should (two to three minutes). Of course, people who eat a lot of refined sugars or have other health problems might require more diligent brushing.

The best bet is to let your dentist make a proper assessment of your personal risk factors. —Cruz

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Q. Do I need to sanitize my toothbrush?
A. As long as you’re the only person using it, no. But it’s best to let your brush dry completely between uses so it doesn’t become a bacteria breeding ground.

Q. What are signs I need to go to the dentist?
A. Typical signs include:

  • Tooth pain
  • Bleeding gums
  • Sensitivity to hot or cold
  • Sore facial muscles
  • Frequent headaches

But you should also see a dentist if your teeth show signs of accelerated wear, such as cracking or chipping.

Q. If I don’t have those signs, do I really need to see a dentist regularly?
A. Absolutely. Everybody should get checked for oral cancer once a year. This is also the standard to prevent any kind of oral disease. Research shows that, if left untreated, dental problems can extend beyond your mouth and lead to cardiovascular problems, diabetes and even premature birth in women who are pregnant.

teeth-questionsQ. I have sensitive, receding gums. What can I do about them?
A. Several factors can cause receding gums, so it’s always best to see a dentist to find out the cause. Many times, gingivitis or periodontal disease causes sensitivity and receding gums. However, brushing too hard, your bite and inflammation from bacteria can also be factors.

Q. If my mouth isn’t big enough for wisdom teeth, why are they there?
A. There are a couple of theories on this:

  1. Many believe that our teeth have evolved over tens of thousands of years and that at one time, humans had larger jaws that could accommodate these third molars.
  2. Another theory suggests that earlier humans ate food that was harder to chew. This ground the teeth and caused them to move forward, making room for the wisdom teeth that came in during early adulthood.

A small percentage of people don’t even get wisdom teeth at all, and of those who do, some don’t need to have them removed. All jaws and skulls are different. Sometimes there is room for wisdom teeth, and sometimes they cause overcrowding.

The Dentists

Mark A. Cruz, D.D.S., dentist, Dana Point, Calif.

P. Piero, D.D.S., dentist, Holland, Mich.

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Last updated and/or approved: September 2011.
Original questions and answers appeared in previous issues of the former print magazine. This general health-care information is not meant as individual advice. Please see our disclaimer.
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