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Ask questions on visit to the dentist

September 24, 2009

A trip to the dentist may not be on your list of “happy places,” so let’s try to save some time, expense, pain and discomfort by sorting this out.

There are some things you should know about your dentist: Does he participate in ongoing education? It’s probably been years since he graduated from dental school, and lately major strides have been made in materials for fillings, bondings, and root canals.

Is his equipment updated, and does he have a digital X-ray machine? It uses less radiation than film, and is easier to read, so diagnosis is more accurate.

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Does his office offer ultrasonic cleaning? Ultrasonic instruments vibrate plaque and calculus off your teeth, even below your gums, making this more tolerable than old-fashioned scraping. If he has the CEREC system, you could get a crown or veneer with less drilling, fewer injections, and no temporary fillings since it’s done in only one visit. There’s also laser technology used to find cavities at an earlier stage and you get to skip the dreaded poking around with the mini-ice-pick-looking tool.

You may also want to find out what lab he uses. There are lots of good ones, but it’s a big red flag if his lab is in China or Mexico and, for me, would not be worth my time to further investigate.

He should also be concerned about diabetes, hypertension, sleep apnea and TMJ, or jaw disorders. If you have any of these going on, he should have asked you a few extra questions at your last check up.

How does he feel about using metals in your mouth? Mercury fillings are easier to use and less expensive for him, but if a dentist doesn’t use composite fillings — for me — that’s a deal breaker. Mercury is toxic and many countries have banned its use. But in the U.S., the FDA has been slow moving on this issue so you’ll have to take the bull by the horns. All materials used in your mouth should be biocompatible to protect your immune system. Silver fillings are 50% mercury and considered an extremely dangerous neurotoxin, capable of permanent neurological damage to your brain. It’s been my experience that some dentist will tell you otherwise — so you’ll have to decide where you stand on this issue.

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