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Frequently Asked Questions

What is a crown?


Dental crowns (also sometimes referred to as ‘dental caps' or ‘tooth caps') cover over and encase the tooth on which they are cemented. Dentists use crowns when rebuilding broken or decayed teeth, as a way to strengthen teeth and and as method to improve the cosmetic appearance of a tooth. Crowns are made in a dental laboratory by a dental technician who uses moulds of your teeth made by your dentist.

The type of crown your dentist recommends will depend on the tooth involved and sometimes on your preference. They include porcelain crowns, porcelain-bonded-to-metal crowns, which combine the appearance of tooth coloured material with the strength of metal, gold alloy crowns and acrylic crowns.

Can I protect my mouth if I smoke?


No. However, there are two things that a smoker should do to help protect his or her oral health.

1. Arrange to have a regular 6 monthly check-up with your dentist.
2. Give up smoking. If smoking is stopped in time it is often possible to maintain a healthy mouth and keep the teeth for a lifetime. In 3-5 years after stopping smoking the chance of getting oral cancer is halved and reduces further with time.

The Quit program from the Anti-Cancer Council gives excellent advice on how to help you give up smoking (www.quit.org.au ).

Tongue and Lip Piercing - What are the most common problems?


Piercing can result in serious problems, such as trauma to teeth (due to constant hitting with a metal object), interference with chewing and speaking, hypersensitivity to metals, foreign debris in the pierced site leading to infection, and difficulty in breathing from airway obstruction due to swelling from infection.

The mouth is teeming with bacteria, which cause no harm unless they get into deeper tissues. Piercing allows these bacteria to penetrate to the inner tissues of the tongue, where they have the potential to cause serious infections.

Piercing also puts you at risk of contracting blood borne hepatitis. Additionally, this can result in secondary infection, which can also be serious.

Dentists point out that metal inserted into the tongue constantly hits the teeth and can chip or fracture the enamel, sometimes leaving the nerve exposed. Microscopic cracks, which are difficult to diagnose, may also appear, causing severe pain. Damage can be so severe a full crown may be the only way to save the tooth - and the smile.

Horror stories have also been reported of studs dislodging and pins becoming "lost" inside the tongue, requiring oral surgery to retrieve them.

What does root canal treatment really mean?


Root canal or endodontic treatment is a process whereby inflamed or dead pulp is removed from the inside of the tooth, enabling a tooth that was causing pain to be retained.

Dental pulp is the soft tissue in the canal that runs through the centre of a tooth. Once a tooth is fully formed it can function normally without its pulp and be kept indefinitely.

After removing the pulp, the root canals are cleaned, sterilised and shaped to a form that can be completely sealed with a filling material to prevent further infection. The treatment can take several appointments, depending on how complex the tooth is, and how long the infection takes to clear.

Subsequently a crown or complex restoration to restore or protect the tooth may be a necessary recommendation, as a tooth after undergoing treatment may be more likely to fracture.

Why do dental rebates differ from health funds?


Health funds have assessors who determine the level of rebate for particular dental items. There is a balance between the rebate and the level of premium you pay, the type of cover and other factors such as waiting periods, annual limits and any promotional offers.

As a consumer, you choose the private health scheme that best suits your needs.

Most have fixed rebates for treatments irrespective of the actual fees charged. The rebates are generally not designed to provide full cover for dental fees or even a consistent percentage.
In addition, most schemes do not include all treatment items. Some common treatments have no rebate at all.

1. Your contract with the health fund is between you and the fund. It remains separate from the contract you have with your dentist.
2. There is no such thing as a ‘recognised fee' or ‘schedule fee' in dentistry and the Australian Dental Association (ADA) states categorically that any organisation that implies that their rebates are set to a percentage of a ‘schedule fee' is misleading the public, regardless of whether it is an ‘internal' schedule.

What is Periodontal Disease?


Periodontal disease is an inflammatory disease that attacks the gums, bones and supporting structures of the teeth. It is the main reason why adults loose their teeth, and is predominately caused by plaque (thick colourless sticky film of bacteria that builds up on teeth and around the gum lines).

Initially, if plaque is not brushed and flossed away daily, early stages of the disease maybe diagnosed, it is called gingivitis (inflammation of the gums). Signs of gingivitis include swollen, red and bleeding gums. Gingivitis is reversible, by simply brushing and flossing your teeth and gums, and possibly a mouth rinse. 

If the disease progresses to advance stage of periodontal disease (irreversible) gums may begin to recede away from the teeth. This movement creates sensitive pockets in between teeth and gums, which eventually fills with plaque and cause deterioration to the dental bone and supportive tissues.

Symptoms of periodontal disease include:

  • Bleeding gums whilst brushing or flossing your teeth
  • Pain while chewing
  • Red, sore, swollen guns
  • Build up of calculus
  • Bad breath or bad taste
  • Loss of teeth
  • Teeth sensitivity to hot and cold
  • Changes in bite
  • Gums that have withdrawn from teeth and in between teeth.

What causes periodontal disease?


Periodontal disease is caused by bacteria. Bacteria form a ‘plaque' which is a sticky, colourless film that forms on your teeth, particularly around the gum line. Other bacteria thrive deep in the gap between the gum and the tooth (the ‘pocket'). Some people are much more at risk of developing periodontal disease - smoking is one of the major risk factors. Other conditions such as diabetes, stress, pregnancy and various medications can all be contributing factors.

What type of forces cause teeth to crack?


Front teeth usually break due to a knock, an accident or during biting.

Back teeth can also be fractured from a knock. They are much more likely than front teeth, to crack from forces applied by the jaws slamming together rapidly. This is why sportspeople wear mouthguards to cushion the blow.

Other forces occur during sleep because people grind their teeth with a much greater force than they would ever do while awake. The first sign of problems may be what we call "cracked tooth syndrome" - a sore or sensitive tooth somewhere in the mouth that is often hard for even the dentist to find. In some individuals the grinding, called bruxism, causes tooth wear rather than fracture.

Are whitening toothpastes very effective?


Whitening toothpastes are really aimed at whitening stains that are on the surface of the teeth, not whitening into the tooth surface. Whitening toothpaste needs to be in contact with the teeth for many minutes to have the slightest effect. The active ingredients of bleaching toothpastes are present in much lower concentrations than those in home bleaching kits, and they tend to be quickly washed off the tooth surface by saliva. Many people choose whitening toothpastes because they may get some whitening as well as the benefits of fluoride in the paste.