Frequently Asked Questions

Visit the ADA's new
consumer website:

www.mouthhealthy.org

 
What is the difference between a DMD and a DDS?
DDS - doctor of dental surgery
DMD - doctor of dental medicine


There is no difference between the two degrees; dentists who have a DMD or DDS have the same education. Universities have the prerogative to determine what degree is awarded. Both degrees use the same curriculum requirements set by the American Dental Association's Commission on Dental Accreditation. Both degrees allow licensed individuals to practice the same scope of general dentistry.


I've just moved into the area and need a dentist. Where can I get a recommendation?
The Illinois State Dental Society suggests these tips if you're looking for a dentist:
  • Ask trusted friends and family members for their recommendations. This is one of the best ways to find a dentist you'll be comfortable with.
  • If you're moving, your dentist may be able to refer you to another dentist in your new location.
  • Verify that the dentist is a member of the American Dental Association and the Illinois State Dental Society when you call to make your initial appointment. Members of these organizations agree to subscribe to a code of professional conduct.
  • If you're looking for a specialist (i.e., periodontist, orthodontist, pediatric dentist, etc.), it is best to ask your regular dentist for a recommendation and referral. This way, you can be assured that copies of the necessary patient records will be transferred in advance to the specialist. In addition, the specialist will report back to your dentist for the purpose of coordinating your oral health care.


What is the difference between a general dentist and a specialist?
When a dentist graduates from dental school, he/she receives a DDS or DMD degree depending on the school. Once licensed to practice by the state, such a person with one of these degrees may practice general dentistry. In this type of practice, the dentist may perform all areas of dentistry. Some dentists choose to pursue advanced education after dental school for one to four years depending on the program, and then receive an advanced degree in a specialty area of practice. The six recognized and licensed dental specialties in Illinois are endodontics; oral and maxillofacial surgery; orthodontics and dentofacial orthopedics; pediatric dentistry, periodontics, and prosthodontics. Once the person receives an advanced degree in one of these specialties, the dentist may obtain a specialty license in Illinois that allows them to limit their practice to that area of practice and advertise to the public that he/she is a specialist.


Are my silver fillings (amalgams) safe?
For more than 150 years, amalgam (or silver fillings) has been used to treat dental decay. Amalgam is a combination of copper, tin, silver and mercury and is strong enough to tolerate the pressures of grinding and chewing. It is one of the most effective and widely used tooth restoration materials, serving the oral health care needs of 100 million Americans. No filling material has been proven superior to amalgam in safety, durability and cost effectiveness.


My child has just knocked out a tooth. What should I do?
In the case of a tooth that has been knocked out, follow these steps:
  • Calm the injured person and determine the extent of the injury.
  • Locate the tooth that has been knocked out.
  • If the tooth is dirty, rinse it gently in warm running water. Do not scrub it.
  • Gently insert and hold the tooth in its socket. If this is not possible, place the tooth in a container of milk or cool water or wrap it in a moist cloth.
  • Go to the dentist immediately.
If the tooth has been broken, and not knocked out, gently clean any dirt or debris from the injured area with warm water. Place a cold compress on the face near the injured tooth to minimize swelling. Go to the dentist immediately.


Should I be concerned that my community is fluoridating their water?
Fluoridation of public water is considered one of the most significant public health success stories of the century. Since its introduction more than 50 years ago, half of children ages 5-17 never have had a cavity in their permanent teeth. That compares with 37% in 1980 and only 28% in the early 1970s.

Fluoride is nature's cavity fighter. It is abundant in the earth's crust, in minerals, rocks and soil. Small amounts of fluoride are present naturally in all water sources, and varying amounts of fluoride are in all foods and beverages.

Fluoride reduces tooth decay in many ways. When swallowed, it is incorporated into the enamel of developing teeth before they erupt, making them more resistant to decay. After teeth erupt, fluoride applied to the teeth continues to strengthen the tooth structure to further prevent decay by reversing the early stages of decay and promoting the remineralization of enamel. Decay occurring along the gum line, usually seen in older patients, is also decreased markedly by fluoride use.

The average cost for a community to fluoridate its water is an estimated 51 cents a year per person. Over a lifetime, that is less than the cost of having one cavity treated. Studies show that water fluoridation reduces the amount of cavities children get in their baby teeth by as much as 60% and can reduce tooth decay in permanent adult teeth by nearly 35%.

Does bottled water contain the fluoride that I need?
If your primary source of drinking water is bottled water, you need to be aware that you could be missing the fluoride that is needed to help prevent tooth decay in both adults and children. Current Food and Drug Administration regulations do not require bottle water companies to list fluoride content unless fluoride has been added to the water.


My children are now busy playing in numerous sports. Should they be wearing mouth guards?
Experts have recommended the mouth guard as an important piece of safety equipment for quite some time now. For an athlete to play without one is a significant risk. Coaches and players realize that mouth guards cushion blows that would have caused injuries to the lips and face, broken teeth and even sometimes jaw fractures.

Many people may associate mouth protectors with "contact" sports such as football, hockey and boxing. But many people involved in other recreational activities including skateboarding, roller blading, and snowboarding benefit from wearing mouth guards as well. A dentist can create a customized mouth guard specifically for you. Most mouth protectors cover only the upper teeth but under special circumstances (such as in the case of a protruding jaw or the presence of braces) the lower teeth may need to be covered as well.


I don't smoke or drink, but am I still at risk for oral cancer? What are the signs of oral cancer?
Oral cancer can occur on the tongue, lips, floor of the mouth, soft palate, tonsils, salivary glands or in the back of the throat. If detected early, the cure rate for oral cancer is better than 75-80% after five years.
Signs of oral cancer include:
  • A sore in the mouth that bleeds easily and does not heal
  • A lump or thickening in the cheek that can be felt with the tongue
  • A white or red patch on the gums, tongue or lining of the mouth
  • Soreness or a feeling that something is caught in the throat
  • Difficulty chewing or swallowing
  • Numbness of the tongue or other area of the mouth
Approximately 95% of oral cancer afflicts those 40 years and older. It accounts for more than 8,000 deaths yearly and strikes more than 30,000 Americans each year. In addition to older individuals, those at risk for oral cancer include those who use tobacco in any form (cigarettes, cigars, smokeless tobacco) and those who consume high amounts of alcohol on a regular basis.


My dentist has recommended dental sealants for my children. Are sealants necessary? Is the procedure complicated?
A dental sealant is a plastic material used to protect the chewing surfaces of the teeth. Dental sealants are painted on decay-prone surfaces of the teeth, usually the back molars and premolars. They are beneficial because they act as a protective barrier against acid and plaque, which can attack the teeth and cause decay. Sealants are especially beneficial for coating the natural pits and fissures that form in the chewing surfaces of the tooth's enamel that are out of reach of toothbrush bristles.

A dentist can apply sealants in just a few minutes per tooth. The teeth to be sealed are cleaned and then the chewing surfaces are conditioned to help the sealant adhere to the tooth. The sealant is then painted on the tooth enamel where it bonds directly to the tooth and hardens. Sometimes a special curing light is used to help the sealant harden.

Dental sealants are painless and cost-effective. They help reduce or even eliminate tooth decay, thereby minimizing the need for restoring the damage done to the tooth, such as filling a cavity.


When should thumb sucking stop?
Children should stop thumb sucking by the time their permanent teeth erupt, usually around ages 7 or 8. Failure to stop thumb sucking can cause problems with the proper growth of the mouth and tooth alignment. Pacifiers are no substitute for thumb sucking because they affect the teeth in the same way.


What is baby bottle tooth decay?
Baby bottle tooth decay is caused by prolonged exposure of an infant's teeth to liquids that contain sugar-like milk (including breast milk), formula, fruit juice and other sweetened drinks. Never dip a pacifier in sugar or honey; only put water in your child's naptime or bedtime bottle and always wipe your baby's gums and teeth with a damp washcloth after each feeding.


When should my child start brushing?
Wipe your baby's gums with a clean gauze pad or washcloth after each feeding. Start brushing your child's teeth with water as soon as the first tooth appears. Children over two should use only a pea-sized amount of fluoride toothpaste. Floss your child's teeth as soon as two teeth have erupted side-by-side. Continue brushing and flossing your child's teeth until they are capable of doing it themselves, usually by ages 6 or 7. Establish good dental hygiene early, so your child's smile lasts a lifetime.


When should I take my child to the dentist for the first time?
The American Dental Association recommends parents take their children to the dentist by the child's first birthday. The dentist will demonstrate how to properly care for your child's teeth, evaluate any adverse habits and identify your child's fluoride needs.


I have been considering whitening my teeth. Is it safe to use over-the-counter treatments?
Tooth whitening, also known as bleaching, is one of the more popular cosmetic dental treatments. Bleaching leads to a whiter smile, countering the effects of stains (caused by food, beverages and/or tobacco) or discoloration of the teeth (caused naturally by aging).

Individuals interested in tooth bleaching are encouraged to whiten their teeth under the supervision of a dentist to avoid some of the potential side effects of home bleaching kits. A dentist will determine if there are any problem areas on teeth or gums that bleaching could harm, and also tell you if bleaching will work. Stains and discoloration on teeth caused by disease, certain medications, and some other biological factors will not be removed or lightened by bleaching.

Teeth can be whitened by several methods. Chair side bleaching is done in the dental office and usually takes about 30 to 60 minutes. A shield protects the teeth from the oxidizing agent, which is "painted" onto the teeth. A special light may be used at five-minute intervals to help activate the agent.

With nighttime bleaching, a mouthguard is custom-made. A dentist dispenses the bleaching gel to the patient. The patient places the gel into the mouthguard, which is worn up to two hours daily or at night for about two weeks. The dentist will check results and a follow-up regimen will be prescribed.


My wisdom teeth are coming in. Do I need to worry about having them removed?
Wisdom teeth that are healthy and properly positioned can be a valuable asset to the mouth.

Unfortunately, this often is not the case, and problems develop that require their removal. For example, when the jaw is not large enough to accommodate these teeth, they may be unable to come in or move into their proper place. They may grow sideways, emerge only partway from the gum, or remain trapped beneath the gum and bones.

Often, extracting the wisdom teeth can protect the overall health of the mouth. It is generally recommended when the following conditions occur:
  • The wisdom teeth only partially erupt, leaving an opening for bacteria to enter around the tooth and cause infection. Pain, swelling, jaw stiffness and general illness can result.
  • Impacted wisdom teeth may continue growing without enough room, damaging adjacent teeth. This continued pressure could eventually destroy the healthy molar next to the wisdom tooth.
  • A fluid-filled cyst or tumor forms, destroying surrounding structures such as bone or tooth roots.
Your dentist can tell you if you have room for your wisdom teeth.

Can my dentist remove my wisdom teeth, or do I need to see a specialist? If so, which specialist do I see?
Some general dentists will remove wisdom teeth, but it depends on the condition of the erupting teeth; your wisdom teeth may need to be removed by an oral surgeon. Your dentist will make that determination and will be able to recommend an oral and maxillofacial surgeon if needed.


How safe are dental x-rays? How often should they be taken?
Dentists are careful to minimize the exposure of patients to radiation. With contemporary safeguards, the amount of radiation received in a dental x-ray examination is extremely small. The risk is negligible. In fact, dental x-rays represent a far smaller risk than an undetected and untreated dental problem.

How often x-rays are taken depends on your individual health needs. The schedule for needing radiographs varies according to your age, risk for disease and signs and symptoms. Your dentist will review your history, examine your mouth and then decide whether you need x-rays and what type.

If you are a new patient, your dentist may recommend radiographs to determine the present status of the hidden areas of your mouth and to help analyze changes that may occur later. Recent x-rays may be needed to detect new cavities, to determine the status of gum disease, or to evaluate growth and development. Children may need x-rays more often than adults. This is because their teeth and jaws are still developing and are more likely to be affected by tooth decay than those of adults.


How do I file a complaint about a dentist?
The Illinois State Dental Society has a peer review process that can assist in mediating clinical disputes. Complete the Request for Review of Dental Services Form and mail or fax it to the ISDS Committee on Mediation and Clinical Peer Review.


I'm unhappy with my dental treatment. What is my recourse?
The ISDS provides a non-legal service called Peer Review, which helps to resolve differences between a patient and a dentist over treatment. The system addresses problems related to appropriateness of care and quality of treatment, but does not get involved in fee disputes. As a private mediation system, peer review attempts to resolve disputes outside of the legal system and prior to any lawsuits being filed. Once a complaint is filed, if the nature of the complaint falls within the peer review criteria, then a mediator dentist is assigned to the case to make an attempt to resolve the dispute. If that is not possible, there are further procedures that may be used to provide a resolution to the problem. To initiate the review process, an unhappy patient must first complete a Request for Review of Dental Services Form.


Which insurance companies offer individual dental insurance plans?
Very few insurance companies offer individual dental plans. Those that do usually offer plans that restrict you to a few specific dentists. Contact your local insurance agent or broker to see if any plans are available in your area.


My dentist's fees are higher than what my insurance will pay. Is there help available to me?
In most cases, dentists are individual owners of their business who can set the rates for his/her services according to their own costs. Thus, dentists' fees charged to patients may vary throughout a local community. In some cases, a dentist may sign up for a local PPO or HMO, in which case the fees charged may be set by an outside insurance-related organization. In these instances, the dentist may only charge what is allowed under the insurance plan within certain parameters. If your plan is a PPO type of plan, the dentist has agreed to discount his usual fee by a certain percentage, and that fee combined with your co-payment amount is usually less than the dentist's normal fee. In an HMO arrangement, usually the dentist has agreed to provide some basic services at no charge and a set fee and co-payment amount for other services. You should remember that few plans cover all types of dental procedures, and you should always review your dental insurance plan benefits with your employer to understand such arrangements.


Can I get a list of dentists that provide services to All Kids recipients?
The administrator of the Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Service's dental plan, DentaQuest Dental Services, is the only entity that has a list of participating dentists. Call DentaQuest at 888/286-2447 to obtain a referral.


Are dentists legally restricted to what they can charge for their dental services?
Dentists may charge whatever they determine is appropriate for the dental services that they offer to their patients. They must price their services at a reasonable level to compete. Some dental fees may be established for dentists if they participate in a managed care HMO or PPO plan. Dental insurance plans may also limit charge to what they consider "usual and customary" for their particular plan.


Do I, as a patient, have a right to my dental records? How long is a doctor required to keep my records?
Yes, you have a right to a copy of your dental records, but the dentist can charge you a reasonable fee to duplicate these records. By law, the dentist must retain the originals for 10 years.


My daughter wants to be a dentist. What course of study should she begin?
Most students entering dental school have obtained a bachelor's degree from a college or university, with a concentration in the natural sciences like biology and chemistry although the natural sciences as the major course of study are not required. Often, however, a student who is lacking in the biological or other basic sciences will probably need to take remedial education in the sciences to be admitted.


What level of education is necessary to be a dental hygienist?
In order to become a dental hygienist, following high school a student must complete a dental hygiene educational program, usually through a community college, technical college, dental school or university. Most of these programs are two years in length, and grant either a certificate or an associate's degree although there are some four-year programs leading to a bachelor's degree. Following graduation from an accredited educational program, the dental hygienist must then pass a state or regional dental testing board exam in order to obtain a license to practice dental hygiene.


What causes bad breath, and what can I do about it?
Bad breath, or halitosis, has a variety of causes and treatments.

Is oral piercing dangerous?
Today's young people may think they're making quite a fashion statement with oral piercing, but the truth is that oral piercing is accompanied with a number of risks infection, pain, swelling, increased saliva production, damage to the gum tissues, cracked teeth, blood poisoning, and a tongue swelling that may obstruct the person's airway. Many who undergo oral piercing end up regretting it and calling upon their dentists and physicians to fix the problem.


What cosmetic procedures are available to enhance the appearance of my smile?
A smile is one of the first features that we notice about a person. With advances in dentistry, today's patients have a wide range of options for improving their smiles.



Endorsed Products & Services

From office products to financial
services, insurance
to logo items,
shop the ISDS
Store for all your
business needs.

Shop the ISDS store for your business needs
Deco