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13 Things Your Dentist Wants You to Know (But You’re Too Scared to Ask)

Not everyone likes going to the dentist, but educating yourself can make the experience less nerve-racking and more productive.

Dentist secrets

Many people feel anxiety and fear when they think about going to the dentist. However, it’s important for your oral health to make those appointments—especially if you’re in pain—even if going to the dentist isn’t always a walk in the park. To avoid dental emergencies, make sure you visit your dentist twice a year. Here are the answers to your most common questions, according to dentists.

Things-Your-Dentist-Wants-You-to-Know-(But-You're-Too-Scared-to-Ask)Bojan Milinkov/Shutterstock

The X-rays won’t harm you

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 Don’t miss why Covid-19 is bad for dental health.

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People do notice good teeth

When someone meets you for the first time, the first thing they notice is eyes. Second is teeth, and third is hair. But people spend way more money on their hair than their teeth. –Damian Dachowski, DMD, general dentist, Horsham, Pennsylvania 

Things-Your-Dentist-Wants-You-to-Know-(But-You're-Too-Scared-to-Ask)Marian Weyo/Shutterstock

We can smell your last meal

Don’t eat a heavy garlic lunch before coming to see us—we’d appreciate that. –Jennifer Jablow, DDS (Definitely make sure you don’t eat any of these foods that cause notoriously bad breath.)

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But we won’t call you out

If your breath is bad, we won’t tell you unless you ask. –Gary Herskovits, DDS (However, it may be in your best interest to ask. Bad breath could be the sign of another medical issue.)

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Your dream teeth may not be possible

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

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Bottles can seriously damage your baby’s teeth

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

Things-Your-Dentist-Wants-You-to-Know-(But-You're-Too-Scared-to-Ask)Milles Studio/Shutterstock

Chewing gum should be part of your routine

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 (However, keep in mind that xylitol and other sugar alcohols can cause bloating and diarrhea, so don’t overdo it.)

Things-Your-Dentist-Wants-You-to-Know-(But-You're-Too-Scared-to-Ask)Ollyy/Shutterstock

No mouth piercings. Please.

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 (Here are signs you’re headed towards a dental emergency)

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That old idiom just isn’t true

People say something difficult is like pulling teeth. But pulling teeth is really fast and easy. —Mark Mutschler, DDS, pediatric dentist, Oregon City, Oregon 

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Dentists are only as good as their waiting rooms

When choosing a dentist, check if the magazines in the waiting room are current. That shows attention to detail. –Michael Alkon, DMD

Things-Your-Dentist-Wants-You-to-Know-(But-You're-Too-Scared-to-Ask)Valeri Potapova/Shutterstock

Know what your insurance covers before coming in

People come in for an appointment without knowing what their insurance covers. They think we have a crystal ball that tells us everyone’s insurance information. We don’t. And we need to find out what’s covered before we can do anything. –Damian Dachowski, DMD (These are the secrets your insurance company is keeping from you.)

Things-Your-Dentist-Wants-You-to-Know-(But-You're-Too-Scared-to-Ask)Stefano Garau/Shutterstock

Bleeding gums are serious business

If your hands bled when you washed them, you’d run to the doctor. But in the public’s mind, bleeding gums are OK. Unless you’re really whaling away with your brush, if your gums bleed even a little, that’s periodontal disease, period. —Ron Schefdore, DMD, general dentist, Chicago, Illinois 

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You don’t have “soft teeth”—You have tooth decay

People come to me with a mouthful of tooth decay and say, “I got my grandfather’s soft teeth.” I don’t even know what soft teeth are. –Bryan Tervo, DDS (These everyday mistakes could give you tooth decay—and you don’t even know it.)

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