Secrets From Your Dentist

Dentists from across the country tell us what they're really thinking as they peer at our teeth.

By Chris Woolston from Reader's Digest | July 2009

“New and Improved”? Yeah, Right There’s no reason to sanitize a toothbrush unless you’re sharing it with other people. Those UV devices and other germ zappers are totally unnecessary. — Joel Slaven, DDS

There’s a limit to what toothpaste can do. New whitening formula? It can get rid of surface stains, but it can’t whiten like a bleach. — Careen Young, DDS, prosthodontist, Beverly Hills, California

The electric toothbrush is one of the best things to ever happen to dentistry. The newer ones replicate professional cleaning—they won’t reach much below the gum line, but they’re far superior to regular toothbrushes. The cheap ones are okay for kids, but you’ll have to pay more than $75 for a really good brush with a warranty and replacement heads. — Danine Fresch Gray, DDS

I wish people still used the Waterpik [a water-shooting device that was popular in the 1970s]. Each tooth is surrounded by a putrid, germy moat of saliva. If you replace that moat every day, you’ll go a long way toward keeping your mouth clean and your gums healthy. — Chris Kammer, DDS

We Blame You When Baby Teeth Go Bad

It’s not unusual for me to see a beautiful little child dressed to the nines with teeth rotted down to the gums. And I’ll see teenagers from affluent homes with nine cavities. It’s just a total breakdown in parental supervision. — Joel Slaven, DDS

For the past 20 years, we’ve been telling parents about baby bottle tooth decay and not to let a child go to sleep with a bottle. But I haven’t seen much of a change. — Winifred J. Booker, DDS, pediatric dentist, Owings Mills, Maryland

The bacteria that cause cavities can be spread from mother to baby through saliva. If you have poor dental health and you taste your baby’s food and then pop the same spoon into his mouth, you’re putting him at risk. — Mark Helpin, DMD, pediatric dentist, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Kids with dental problems often struggle in school. They’re distracted and easily agitated. Teachers will say they have behavior problems, but they really have toothaches. — Winifred J. Booker, DDS

I have to extract a lot of baby teeth that are abscessed or heavily decayed. Parents think there’s no reason to pay attention to baby teeth because they fall out. But when a tooth comes out prematurely, other teeth crowd in to fill up the space. Without the right treatment, it turns into a mess. — Paul Hettinger, DMD,general dentist, Orlando, Florida

I call soda pop the liquid chain saw. It cuts through teeth. And it’s not just the sugar—it’s the acid. — Chris Kammer, DDS

Free Advice If you want to reduce the bad bacteria in your mouth, you should be all over xylitol [a sugar substitute found in chewing gum]. It changes the chemistry of your mouth. Six or seven pieces of xylitol gum every day will help keep cavities away. — Chris Kammer, DDS

Some people give up on tooth whitening because the gel irritates their teeth and gums. Just use a fluoride rinse or gel before and after—it’ll make your teeth much less sensitive. — Ned Windmiller, DDS

With any kind of mouth piercing, there’s a huge risk of infection if it’s not done in a really sterile environment. I’ve seen cases where we’ve had to cut out pieces of the tongue because the infection was so rampant. Even when things go well, virtually everyone I see with a tongue piercing has chipped front teeth. Don’t pierce your tongue. — Jay Grossman, DDS, cosmetic dentist, Brentwood, California

Quit Worrying Amalgam [silver] fillings do release a small amount of mercury through wear and tear in the mouth. But you’d have to have about 300 fillings for the mercury level to get high enough to pose even the smallest risk. — Edmond Hewlett, DDS, prosthodontist, Los Angeles, California

Taking metal fillings out can release more mercury than leaving them in. — Brody Hildebrand, DDS, orthodontist, Dallas, Texas

Composite [tooth-colored] fillings are popular, but a metal filling is going to be more durable, especially for bigger jobs. — Brody Hildebrand, DDS

I have amalgam fillings in my own mouth. There’s no proof that they do any harm. Convincing patients to remove their fillings for health reasons is quackery. — Michael Alkon, DMD, general dentist, Holmdel, New Jersey

A lot of patients are worried that dental X-rays can cause cancer, but if you’re outside for an hour, you’re exposed to more radiation than you’d get from a full set of dental X-rays. What I worry about is that if I don’t take an X-ray, I might miss something serious. — Bryan Tervo, DDS

We Hate Insurers Too A few decades ago, most insurance plans would cover up to $1,000 or $1,500 in dental bills every year. Today, a single crown can cost that much, but most policies still have the same limit. People are getting teeth pulled that could be fixed because they can’t afford to pay for the work. — Bryan Tervo, DDS

Patients seem receptive to everything I say until I tell them how much it costs. I feel really good when patients accept 40 percent of what I recommend. — Joel Slaven, DDS

If you’re missing teeth, chances are that your insurance company won’t cover implants—only one out 22 insurance companies I deal with covers them, even though they’re better than dentures in every way. — Joel Slaven, DDS

Your Teeth Can Alert Us to Disease Misaligned teeth can cause migraine headaches. If we can align the teeth and fix the bite, the pain often goes away. — Mai-Ly Ramirez, DDS, general dentist, San Francisco, California

One of the first signs of diabetes is bleeding gums. I started taking blood samples from all my patients with bleeding gums and bone loss around the teeth and discovered that many of them were diabetic or prediabetic. — Ron Schefdore, DMD

We’re Not Miracle Workers Patients come in with pictures of celebrities and say, “I want to look just like her.” I’m sitting there thinking, You can’t have a smile that looks like Angelina Jolie’s, because you don’t have a face that fits those teeth. It’s like when you get your hair color done—you can’t just put the same highlights or lowlights in everybody’s hair. — Jay Grossman, DDS

Teeth get whiter when they dry out. Some dentists promise that their office procedures will make your teeth four shades whiter. But if you leave your mouth open for an hour, you could easily be two shades whiter just from dehydration. — Careen Young, DDS

If you bleach your teeth too often, it can thin the enamel. Your teeth can end up almost translucent. — Jennifer Jablow, DDS

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