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Dental X-rays: The Inside Story

November 23rd, 2022

We’re all friends here, so if you sometimes feel a bit nervous before your dental appointment, no judging! Ask us about any worries you might have. We are happy to explain procedures, equipment, and sedation options so you know just how safe and comfortable your experience can be. And if X-rays are a concern, we can put your mind at ease here as well.

What Exactly Are X-rays?

Sometimes patients feel reluctant about the process of imaging because X-rays are a kind of radiation. But the fact is, radiation is all around us. We are exposed to radiation naturally from our soil and water, sun and air, as well as from modern inventions such as cell phones, Wi-Fi, and air travel.

Why is radiation so common? Because matter throughout the universe constantly gives off energy, and the energy that is emitted is termed radiation. This radiation takes two forms—as particles (which we don’t need to consider!) and as traveling rays. This second type is known as electromagnetic radiation, created by photons traveling in regular waves at the speed of light.

We are exposed to electromagnetic radiation every day, because, whether we can see them or not, these different wavelengths and frequencies create various forms of light. Radio waves, microwaves, infrared, visible, and ultraviolet light, X-rays, and gamma rays are all part of the electromagnetic light spectrum.

Different types of radiation on this spectrum have different wavelengths and different frequencies, and produce different amounts of energy. Longer wavelengths mean lower frequencies and less energy. Because X-rays have shorter wavelengths and higher frequencies than, for example, radio waves and visible light, they have more energy.

How Do Dental X-rays Work?

An X-ray machine produces a very narrow beam of X-ray photons. This beam passes through the body and captures images of our teeth and jaws on special film or digital sensors inside the mouth (intraoral X-rays), or on film or sensors located outside the mouth (extraoral X-rays). These X-ray images are also known as radiographs.

Why are X-rays able to take pictures inside our bodies? Remember that higher energy we talked about earlier? This energy enables X-rays to pass through the softer, less dense parts of our bodies, which are seen as gray background in a radiograph. But some substances in our bodies absorb X-rays, such as the calcium found in our bones and teeth. This is why they show up as sharp white images in radiographs.  

There are different types of common dental X-rays which are used for a number of reasons:

  • Bitewing X-rays, which are used to check on the health of the back teeth.
  • Periapical X-rays, which allow us to look at one or two specific teeth from crown to root.
  • Occlusal X-rays, which show the entire arch of teeth in the upper or lower jaw.
  • Panoramic X-rays, which use a special machine to rotate around the head to create a complete two-dimensional picture of teeth and jaws.
  • Cone Beam Computed Tomography, an external device which uses digital images to create a three-dimensional picture of the teeth and jaws.

Why Do We Need X-rays?

If all of our dental conditions were visible on the surface, there would be no need for X-rays. But there are many conditions that can only be discovered with the use of imaging—infection, decay, a decrease in bone density, or injuries, for example, can show up as darker areas in the teeth or jaws. Among their many diagnostic uses, X-rays can help us find:

  • Cavities between teeth or under old fillings
  • Damage to the tooth’s pulp which might require root canal treatment
  • Injuries to teeth or roots after trauma
  • Abscesses, tumors, or other conditions that might be causing swelling or pain
  • Position and development of wisdom teeth
  • Ideal placement for implants
  • Health and density of the jaw and alveolar bone

X-rays can also serve an important preventative role, by discovering small problems before they become major ones.

How Do Dentists Make Sure Your X-rays Are As Safe As They Can Be?

First of all, the amount of radiation you are exposed to with a dental X-ray is very small. In fact, a set of bitewing X-rays exposes us to slightly less than the amount of radiation we are exposed to through our natural surroundings in just one day. Even so, Drs. Charles and Paul Mendes and our team are committed to making sure patients are exposed to as little radiation as possible.

Radiologists, the physicians who specialize in imaging procedures and diagnoses, recommend that all dentists and doctors follow the safety principal known as ALARA: “As Low As Reasonably Achievable.” This means using the lowest X-ray exposure necessary to achieve precise diagnostic results for all dental and medical patients.

The guidelines recommended for X-rays and other imaging have been designed to make sure all patients have the safest experience possible whenever they visit the dentist or the doctor. We ensure that imaging is safe and effective in a number of ways:

  • We take X-rays only when they are necessary.
  • We provide protective gear, such as apron shields and thyroid collars, whenever needed.
  • We make use of modern X-ray equipment, for both traditional X-rays and digital X-rays, which exposes patients to a lower amount of radiation than ever before.
  • When treating children, we set exposure times based on each child’s size and age.

And now that we’ve talked about some things you might like to know,

Please Let Us Know If . . .

  • You’re a new patient, with previous X-rays taken during regular exams or for specific procedures. Ask to have your older X-rays sent to our office. With digital X-ray technology, this transfer can be accomplished with e-mail! Having your dental history available lets us notice any changes that have taken place.
  • You’re pregnant, or think you might be pregnant. Even though radiation exposure is very low with dental radiographs, unless there is a dental emergency, dentists and doctors recommend against X-rays for pregnant patients.

X-rays play an important part in helping us make sure your teeth stay their healthiest. If you have any concerns, contact our Saint Paul office. When it comes to making sure you’re comfortable with all of our procedures, including any X-rays that might be necessary, we’re happy to give you all the inside information!

Does Your Filling Need Replacing?

November 23rd, 2022

No matter how wonderfully something works for us, there comes a day when a replacement might be necessary. This holds true whether it’s the latest and greatest smart phone, or your perfectly prescribed eyeglasses, or your discreet and comfortable dental filling.

Wait, dental filling?

It’s true! While most dental fillings will last for many trouble-free years, there might come a time when a replacement is in order. Here are some signs to look for:

  • Obvious Damage

Your teeth are under a lot of stress. The forces of biting and chewing place hundreds of pounds of pressure on teeth and jaws. And if you grind your teeth, your teeth are really getting a workout. What’s true for your teeth is true for your fillings. Over time, fillings can break down after years of this constant pressure.

If you notice a filling has become loose, or is cracked, or is pulling way from the edges of the tooth, give your dentist a call! A timely replacement can prevent decay from forming under the filling. Which leads us to . . .

  • Pain in a Filled Tooth

When a filling is damaged, it no longer protects the dentin and pulp inside the tooth as effectively.

Why? Because your toothbrush can’t reach beneath your filling—but cavity-causing bacteria can. This means that cavities can develop underneath a filling that’s loose or damaged. Hidden decay will eventually progress into the pulp area of the tooth, which could lead to infection, root canal treatment, or even extraction.

If you’re suffering from pain or sensitivity in or around a tooth, it’s important to see your dentist right away to rule out hidden decay or other serious conditions.

  • Cosmetic Concerns

Composite resin fillings are often used on front teeth because they can be carefully color-matched to our enamel for an almost invisible restoration. Over time, though, you might discover your composite filling has become quite a bit more visible.

Just like our enamel, composite fillings can become stained over time from foods like coffee and red wine, and from smoking. Does a discolored filling need replacement? If the filling is damaged, or if decay is present, yes. If the problem is surface cosmetic staining, Drs. Charles and Paul Mendes might be able to restore the original color of your filling with polishing. If you’re concerned about the color of your filling, talk to us about all of your options.

  • Your Dentist Recommends Replacement

Part of each dental examination includes checking the condition of your restorations. If we notice a loose or damaged filling, or find decay beneath a filling, it’s time for a replacement.

You have more options that ever before when it comes to dental fillings. Gold fillings and silver amalgam fillings last from ten to 15 years or even longer, and are capable of withstanding chewing pressure and filling larger cavities. Composite fillings, although they might not last quite as long, are almost unnoticeable and perfect for visible teeth. Your dentist will recommend the filling which is best suited for your needs.

If you wait to replace a cracked or compromised filling, you’re taking a chance with the health of your tooth. Dental fillings provide years of durable, comfortable wear—but if it’s time for a replacement, don’t hesitate to call our Saint Paul dental office for an appointment.

What to Do When Your Child Has a Loose Tooth

November 16th, 2022

When your child loses a tooth for the first time, you both have a lot to look forward to. Sharing in the “I’m a big kid!” excitement. Tales of the Tooth Fairy or other traditions to mark the occasion. Seeing the start of a beautiful grown-up smile.

But before that baby tooth wiggles all the way out of your child’s mouth, let’s talk about how to handle a loose baby tooth.

  • Be mindful of your children’s feelings. Reassure them that this is a normal part of growing up. If they are anxious about losing a tooth, there are children’s books which can help ease their fears in a soothing and entertaining way.
  • Crunchy and healthy foods like carrot sticks and apple slices can help the tooth fall out naturally—and nutritiously!
  • Encourage careful wiggling. No need for children to yank or pull—time, and a child’s own gentle wiggling with tongue or clean hands, should do the trick. If wiggling the tooth is painful, it might not be ready to come out just yet.
  • If a tooth absolutely is ready, but just won’t come out, you can help your child without resorting to a string and a doorknob. Give our Saint Paul office a call for some suggestions for helping that baby tooth on its way to the Tooth Fairy in a timely—and gentle—fashion.

And if a tooth is clearly loose before its time? Should you encourage its exit?

Probably not. Baby teeth are temporary, but they’re important for your child’s development. They help with speech production, eating and chewing, and serve as placeholders so that permanent teeth can erupt in the right spot at the right time.

There are some situations when a loose baby tooth means a visit to the dentist is in order:

  • Baby teeth usually fall out over a period of years, generally from ages 6 through 12. Since children’s teeth tend to fall out in the same order they arrived, if a molar is loose before the front teeth start to wiggle, give your dentist a call.
  • If your child suffers a fall, or a sports injury, or any kind of accident that leaves a tooth or teeth loose, call your doctor or dentist right away to make sure there are no serious injuries or chance for infection.
  • Any time you feel a tooth is loose that shouldn’t be, make an appointment with your child’s dentist.

Finally, we’ve been talking about loose baby teeth, but loose permanent teeth are another matter entirely.

If you child has a loose permanent tooth due to an injury, or a bad bite, or night-time bruxism (tooth-grinding), or for any other reason, it’s important to call for an appointment immediately. Drs. Charles and Paul Mendes will be able to pinpoint the cause of the problem and can offer some solutions. In the meantime,

  • Make sure your child eats soft foods, and tries to eat on the opposite side of the loose tooth.
  • Keep the area clean with gentle rinsing instead of brushing and flossing.
  • Tell your child not to wiggle it! If the bone or ligaments holding the tooth in place have been damaged, playing with the tooth can make it looser.

A loose baby tooth is a step in your child’s journey to a beautiful, healthy adult smile. Reassure, encourage, and help your child through this rite of passage—and don’t hesitate to call on Drs. Charles and Paul Mendes for advice!

Do We Outgrow Tooth Decay?

November 9th, 2022

Short answer: No. But, since an answer that short is hardly worth the time it took you to click on the link, allow us to explain further!

We tend to think of tooth decay as something we leave behind with childhood. And, while it’s true that youthful cavities are unfortunately common, older adults face unique challenges of their own which put them at risk for cavities.

Root Cavities

Gum tissue often recedes with age. And our roots, which were once completely covered and protected by gum tissue, become partially exposed to plaque, acidic foods, and the abrasive effects of heavy-handed brushing.

This is a problem. Instead of enamel, a substance called cementum covers and protects our roots. But cementum isn’t as strong as enamel, and so our roots are much more vulnerable to the cavity-causing bacteria in plaque, erosion from dietary acids, and damage caused by abrasive brushing. Root cavities also progress faster than crown cavities, which can mean a root canal procedure in your future, or, even worse, an extraction if a cavity isn’t treated promptly.

What can you do to avoid root cavities?

  • Do what you do to avoid any cavity—brush at least twice a day for two minutes, use floss to clean between the teeth and along the gumline, and use a fluoride toothpaste.
  • Fluoride treatments can be applied to the exposed root area for added protection. Ask your dentist about this option.
  • Take care of your gum health. See Drs. Charles and Paul Mendes regularly, and, if you have serious gum disease, a visit to your periodontist might be in order.
  • Always use a soft toothbrush. Even a brush with medium bristles can be too firm for teeth and gums.

Failing Fillings

As we age, our dental restorations age as well. Over time, fillings can become loose, erode, or crack, which can lead to cavities under or around these damaged restorations. Bacteria can reach beneath a loose filling—your toothbrush can’t.

What can you do to prevent cavities in these hidden spots?

  • Keep up with your dental checkups. Part of each dental exam is checking the condition of your dental restorations.
  • Visit Mendes Family Dentistry if you notice any sign of tooth decay, including tooth pain, sensitivity, or discoloration.
  • If you discover a loose, cracked, or lost filling, even without any discomfort, call Drs. Charles and Paul Mendes right away. A timely replacement filling can prevent hidden decay from seriously damaging a tooth.

Dry Mouth

Dry mouth, or xerostomia, occurs when our bodies don’t produce their normal amount of saliva. Saliva, of course, is vital for healthy and comfortable eating—it helps us swallow, digest, and taste our food. And it also has dental benefits! Saliva helps neutralize the acidic foods we eat, washes away food particles and bacteria, and contains minerals like calcium and phosphorus which remineralize tooth enamel.

Many medical conditions (including diabetes and high blood pressure), medical treatments (such as chemotherapy and radiation), and medications (both prescribed and over the counter) can reduce normal saliva production.

What can you do to restore saliva production?

  • Drink fluids as recommended, especially water.
  • Chew gum. Sugarless gum encourages saliva. Sucking on sugar-free candies works as well.
  • Brush regularly with fluoride toothpaste, and ask about fluoride rinses.
  • Talk to Drs. Charles and Paul Mendes. There are medications available that can help.

Keeping up with our dental health is important at any age. Brushing and flossing, fluoride toothpaste, regular dental exams and cleanings at our Saint Paul dental office—the basics of dental health don’t change over time, even if our dental challenges are a bit different as we get older. After all, do you ever outgrow an attractive, healthy smile? This answer is short and sweet: never.

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