Boots WebMD Partners in Health
Return To Boots
Oral health centre
Select An Article

Frequently asked questions about dental health

There are probably lots of questions you keep meaning to ask your dentist, but don’t always have time during dental appointments. Here are answers to some frequently asked questions about oral health.

1. How safe are dental X-rays?

Exposure to all sources of radiation - including from the sun, minerals in the soil, appliances in your home, and dental X-rays - can damage the body's tissues and cells and can lead to the development of cancer in some instances. Fortunately, the dose of radiation you are exposed to during the taking of X-rays is extremely small.

Advances in dentistry over the years have lead to the low radiation levels emitted by today's X-rays. Some of the improvements are new X-ray machines that limit the radiation beam to the small area being X-rayed, higher speed X-ray films that require shorter exposure time compared with older film speeds to get the same results, and the use of film holders that keep the film in place in the mouth (which prevents the film from slipping and the need for repeat X-rays and additional radiation exposure). Also, the use of lead-lined, full-body aprons protects the body from stray radiation (though this is almost nonexistent with the modern dental X-ray machines).

Even with these advancements in safety it should be kept in mind, however, that the effects of radiation are added together over a lifetime. So every little bit of radiation you receive from all sources counts.

2. What are dental sealants, who should get them, and how long do they last?

Sealants are a thin, plastic coating that are painted on the chewing surfaces of teeth - usually the back teeth (the premolars, and molars) - to prevent tooth decay. The painted-on liquid sealant quickly bonds into the depressions and grooves of the teeth forming a protective shield over the enamel of each tooth.

The British Dental Association recommends this treatment for some children - usually where brothers or sisters have tooth decay. Sealants can protect the teeth from decay for up to 10 years, but they need to be checked for chipping or wear at regular dental check-ups.

3. What is drill-less dentistry?

Drill-less dentistry, also called air abrasion and microabrasion, is being offered by some dentists now. Air abrasion can be used to remove tooth decay, to remove some old composite restorations, to prepare a tooth surface for bonding or sealants, and to remove superficial stains and discolourations. The air abrasion instrument works like a mini sandblaster to spray away the decay, stain, or to prepare the tooth surface for bonding or sealant application. With air abrasion, a fine stream of particles is aimed at the tooth surface. These particles are made of silica, aluminium oxide, or a baking soda mixture and are propelled toward the tooth surface by compressed air or a gas that runs through the dental handpiece. Small particles of decay, stain, etc., on the tooth surface are removed as the stream of particles strikes them. The remnant particles are then "suctioned" away. Although very useful for superficial decay, many dentists still opt for a conventional drill when treating deep cavities that are near to the pulp of the tooth.

Next Article:

WebMD Medical Reference

Stay informed

Sign up for BootsWebMD's free newsletters.
Sign Up Now!

Popular slideshows & tools on BootsWebMD

woman_holding_head_in_pain
How to help headache pain
man in mirror
How smoking affects your looks & life
man holding sore neck
16 tips when you have a lot of weight to lose
man holding sore neck
Could you have a hormone imbalance?
woman looking at pregnancy test
Is your body ready for pregnancy?
man holding sore neck
8 signs you're headed for menopause
couple makigh salad
Nutrition for over 50s
bain illustration
Best foods for your brain
adult man contemplating
When illness makes it hard to eat
Allergies
Allergy myths and facts
egg in cup
Surprising things that can harm your liver