To get the best dental care, ask your dentist these questions…

Do I need to take antibiotics before having dental work? Let your dentist know if you have a heart condition. Dental procedures that involve the gums, tooth pulp (nerve) or the skin inside the mouth can cause bacteria to enter the bloodstream, where it potentially can damage heart valves and/or cause a stroke in patients with certain heart conditions. The American Heart Association recommends that these patients take antibiotics before dental work.

How do you sterilize your instruments? The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the American Dental Association recommend that any instruments that contact oral tissues be cleaned of debris by hand scrubbing or ultrasonic cleaner then sterilized by steam under pressure (autoclave), dry heat or chemical vapor. The instruments your dentist will use on you should be in a sealed bag. (You also can ask to see his/her autoclave validation.)

What kind of gloves do you wear? Natural rubber latex isn’t a problem for most people, but a protein in the sap it’s made from can cause allergic reactions—such as itching, hives, runny nose, sneezing, coughing, wheezing…or, rarely, potentially life-threatening low blood pressure, difficulty breathing and throat and tongue swelling. If you’re allergic, ask your dentist to use synthetic latex products.

Am I getting enough fluoride? Even with fluoride toothpaste widely available, community water fluoridation is the most effective way to help prevent tooth decay in children and adults—by up to 40%, according to research. Ask your dentist about local water fluoridation and discuss whether you need to take steps to be sure you’re getting enough fluoride—especially if you don’t drink tap water.

How often should my dentist check for oral cancer? Every regular dental checkup should include an oral cancer check of your lips, gums, inside your cheeks and tongue (both sides and under). But tell your dentist if you use tobacco…drink heavily…are taking immune-suppressing medications…have recently received stem-cell therapy…or are infected with human papillomavirus (HPV) or lichen planus. You may need additional checks.

Do you use ultrasonic devices in your practice? Ultrasonic devices—for instance, scalers or instrument cleaning systems—have the potential, at least in lab tests, to interfere with some implantable cardiac devices, such as pacemakers or implantable defibrillators. To be safe, tell your dentist if you have an implantable cardiac device and ask that he/she consult with your cardiologist to determine if ultrasonic equipment can be used safely on you or nearby.

Can I safely whiten my teeth? Whitening may not be advisable for all patients—for instance, people with tooth-colored restorations—and it can cause adverse effects, such as teeth sensitivity and gum inflammation. Your dentist can advise whether you can safely and effectively whiten your teeth and the best way to do it. There are many whitening options that can work on both external and internal staining—in-office applications, products you get from your dentist to use at home and over-the-counter whiteners. Your dentist’s answer is particularly important if you are tempted to try any at-home whitening method on your own.

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