As a service to the public, the Canadian Dental Association has prepared responses to 10 of the most frequently asked questions (FAQs) posed by the general public. If your question is not answered here, feel free to contact Dr. Boridy at


  Do I really have to go to the dentist every six months? Do I need x-rays at each visit?

  I heard that if I have gum disease, it may cause other health problems. Is this true?

  I want to find a new dentist. How can I find one, and how can I get my records transferred?

  Does my dentist need to wear gloves and a mask, and how do I know he or she is using clean tools?

  Fluoride from the water and from toothpaste, fluoride treatment at the dentist

  When should I take my child to the dentist for the first time? 

  Amalgam filling or white filling, laser or of a drill?

  Bleaching at home with a kit or bleaching at the dentist?

  My dentist is recommending  something I know nothing about. What should I do?

  Cost of dental treatments, payments and insurance



 Do I really have to go to the dentist every six months? Do I need x-rays at each visit?


How often you need to visit the dentist is determined by you and your dentist. Your dentist suggests how often you need to visit based on the state of your oral health. The state of your oral health is influenced by what you do between dental appointments. Ask yourself the following questions:

  • Do I floss every day?

  • Do I brush twice a day with a fluoride toothpaste and follow my dentist's instructions on how to brush properly?

  • Do I eat a well-balanced diet, including food from all food groups, and limit sweets and sticky foods?

  • Do I smoke?

  • Do I have a history of cavities or gum disease?

  • Is my overall health good?

These are all factors that affect your oral health. The answers to these questions will help you and your dentist decide how often you need to visit for check-ups. Some people visit once a year and some every three months, but most fall into the six-month range. It's worth noting that you should not determine your need for dental care on what your dental plan covers.


How often you need to have x-rays also depends on your oral health. A healthy adult who hasn't had cavities or other problems for a couple of years probably won't need x-rays at every appointment. If your dental situation is less stable and your dentist is monitoring your progress, you may require more frequent x-rays. If you are not sure why a particular x-ray is being taken, there is never any harm in asking. Remember that dental x-rays deliver very little radiation and they are a vital tool for your dentist to ensure that small problems don't develop into bigger ones.




 I heard that if I have gum disease, it may cause other health problems. Is this true?


Oral health has always been an important part of overall health, but recent evidence has shown that it may be even more important than we think. New research suggests that the condition of your gums may have an impact on other aspects of your health.


It is known that the bacteria which collect in your mouth cause periodontal disease, commonly known as gum disease. Most of these bacteria stay trapped in the pockets between your teeth and gums. But the latest research suggests that some of those bacteria may be released from the tissues in your mouth and enter your bloodstream. Once this happens, the bacteria are free to travel through your body and attach themselves in other locations. There seems to be an increased risk for two conditions associated with these bacteria: heart diseases and low birth weight babies. Links between gum disease and several other conditions are currently being researched.


Periodontal disease is a leading cause of tooth loss in adults. It's a problem in its own right which needs to be addressed. The good news is that periodontal disease is both preventable and curable. Proper brushing and flossing are essential. Regular visits to your dentist for professional cleanings will ensure that spots you may have missed are not left to develop into serious infections. Ask your dentist what you can do to keep your gums as healthy as they can be. And if this helps you to avoid other, more serious consequences down the road, then an ounce of prevention really is worth a pound of cure.




 I want to find a new dentist. How can I find one, and how can I get my records transferred?


You may find yourself in need of a new dentist for a number of reasons C you may have moved, your dentist may have retired or re-located, you may need a dentist with more flexible hours, or you may require a second opinion. The first step in choosing a new dentist is to list your needs, which might include:

  • location,

  • hours of practice,

  • language(s) spoken,

  • generalist or specialist practice.

Ask your family and friends if they can recommend a dentist. Other members of your community, such as your doctor, may be able to offer suggestions. Some provincial dental associations have Web sites that allow you to search for a dentist in your area, or you can call your provincial dental association and local dental society for leads. Your local society should be listed in the Yellow Pages. Yellow Pages advertising may also prove helpful. It will list each dentist's location, and may include other details that will help you in your search.


Once you have narrowed your list to two or three names, call the dentists to see if they are accepting new patients. This initial call may also give you some sense of the office environment, but there's nothing like the first visit to help you decide if it's a good match for you.


Once you have selected a new dentist, you can request that a copy of your records be transferred from your former dentist. You may be charged an administrative fee for having your records copied and sent to another dental office. Original dental records belong to the dentist who provided the treatment and not the patient because dentists have to keep all of their records for a period of time, as set out by their provincial dental regulatory body. If you have questions about the records transfer process in your province, ask your dentist or contact your local dental society or the provincial dental regulatory body.




 Does my dentist need to wear gloves and a mask, and how do I know he or she is using clean tools?


Your health is very important to your dentist. One of the ways that your dentist helps you stay healthy is by preventing the spread of germs. One of the best ways to do this is to use a protection such as gloves and masks. Your dentist and other dental team members also wash their hands regularly. In addition, they sterilize equipment used in the dental office and clean the furniture and fixtures in the examining rooms. This system is referred to as universal precautions. It means that every patient is treated in the same way because patients don't always know if they're sick. It's always better to be safe than sorry.


If you would like to know how this system is carried out in your dentist's office, ask to be shown how it's done. Dentists welcome the opportunity to ease their patients' concerns, rather than have them leave the office with unanswered questions. Once you see the work that goes into making the dental office a clean and safe environment, you will feel reassured.


It is worth noting that even though universal precautions are used, it is still important to tell your dentist of changes in your health. This will help your dentist suggest the right choices of treatment for you.


Asking questions and getting answers is a part of good health care.





 Fluoride from the water and from toothpaste, fluoride treatment at the dentist


I get fluoride from the water and from toothpaste. Do I need a fluoride treatment every time I go to the dentist, especially now that the media says people are getting too much?


Fluoride is a mineral found in nature. It makes the hard outer layer of the teeth, called enamel, stronger. When enamel is strong, teeth are less likely to get cavities.


Adding fluoride to the water is the most efficient way to provide fluoride protection to a large number of people at a low cost. That's why many towns and cities put fluoride in the water. Fluoride is also in toothpastes that most people use every day.


Fluoride treatments are another source of fluoride. They are useful for people who have a higher risk of cavities. For example, some children may be at high risk because they tend to eat a lot of sweets and they don't always brush their teeth very well. Adults can be at risk for cavities too, depending on:

  • how well they brush and floss;

  • if they have general health problems that might lead to cavities;

  • if their gums are receding with age, leaving the roots of their teeth more exposed.

In short, fluoride is a useful tool in the fight against cavities but like most tools, it must be used with care. For instance, if children swallow too much fluoride when their adult (or permanent) teeth are forming, it can lead to a condition called dental fluorosis. The permanent teeth of people with fluorosis have mottled or discoloured enamel. If you are still concerned about the amount of fluoride you or your family are getting, talk to your dentist.




 When should I take my child to the dentist for the first time?


It's important to get an early start on dental care, so that your child will learn that visiting the dentist is a regular part of health care. The first step is to choose a dentist for your child. It may be your own dentist or one who specializes in treating children (called a pediatric dentist). Once you have selected a dentist, call the office to find out at what age he or she prefers to see child patients for the first time. Some dentists suggest a visit by age one, while others like to see children once all of their baby teeth (or primary teeth) have come in (or erupted). This is generally between age two and three.


It's important to make the first visit a positive experience for your child. That's one reason why it's best to visit before a problem develops. If you think there is a problem, however, take your child to the dentist right away, no matter what age. If you are a nervous dental patient, ask your spouse or another family member to take the child for the appointment. If your child senses that you are nervous, he or she may feel nervous too. When you talk to your child about going to the dentist, explain what will happen without adding things like it won't hurt or don't be scared.


Be sure to get an early start on regular dental care at home. Start cleaning your child's mouth with a soft damp cloth before teeth come in and continue with a soft toothbrush once he or she has a first tooth. Limit the number of sugary treats you give your child, and focus on healthy food choices from the very beginning.




 Amalgam filling or white filling, laser or of a drill?


My dentist is recommending an amalgam filling but I want a white filling (or vice versa). Where does this leave me? I'd also like my dentist to use a laser instead of a drill to do my filling. Is this possible?


You and your dentist should decide together which filling material will work best for you. If you want one kind of material or wish to avoid a certain type, tell your dentist. He or she will advise you if the material that you want will work.


The most common materials for restoring (or filling) teeth are amalgam (sometimes called silver), composite resin (sometimes called plastic or white), gold, ceramic and glass ionomer. Each material has pros and cons. Some materials may better meet your needs than others. It depends on the size of your cavity and its location. If your cavity is in a molar, for example, the filling will receive a lot of biting force or stress, so a strong material is needed. If it's in the front of your mouth where there's less biting force and people will see it, a different material may be better.


There are also new and different ways to prepare a cavity for a filling. Lasers are a fairly new tool in dentistry. They have been used for several years on soft tissues, like the gums. Some dentists are starting to use them in place of drills to remove tooth decay. Lasers work best on decay that's close to the tooth's surface. Over the next few years, lasers will likely be refined and more dentists may be using them instead of drills.


Air abrasion is another new way to remove tooth decay. It uses a fine, sand-blasting spray and works best on surface decay. If you are interested in having air abrasion, call your local dental society or a few dentists in your area to find out which dentists are using it.




 Bleaching at home with a kit or bleaching at the dentist?


What's the difference between the bleaching I can do at home with a kit from the store and the bleaching that my dentist does?


Dentists have been doing what's called non-vital bleaching for many years. Non-vital bleaching is done on a damaged, darkened tooth that has had root canal treatment. Vital bleaching is done on healthy teeth and has become more popular in recent years. It is sometimes called whitening. It may be carried out in the dental office or the dentist may instruct the patient on how to do the bleaching at home. There's also a wide variety of products for sale in stores.


Not all products are the same and not all give you the same results. Different products, including those used by dentists, may also have different risks and side effects. Here's an overview:

  • Whitening toothpastes with abrasive ingredients are really not bleaching products at all. They work on surface stain only. They are sold in many stores.

  • Some whitening toothpastes do contain a chemical ingredient (or bleach) that causes a chemical reaction to lighten teeth. Generally, they have the lowest amount of bleach. They may not whiten as well as stronger products, but they have less chance of side effects. These pastes are brushed onto teeth and rinsed off, like a regular toothpaste.

  • Bleaching kits sold in stores stay on your teeth longer than toothpaste and contain stronger bleach. These store-bought products do not come with the added safety of having your dentist monitor any side effects. They also come with a one-size-fits-all tray that holds the bleach and is more likely to leak the chemical into your mouth.

  • Dentists may do use products with stronger bleach, but they give patients careful instructions to follow. They are also trained to spot and treat the side effects that patients sometimes report during bleaching. In addition, if a tray is needed to apply the bleach, dentists supply custom-made trays. Because products used by dentists are strong, they tend to produce the best results.

Patients should be aware that the long term use of whitening or bleaching products may cause tooth sensitivity or tooth abrasion.




 My dentist is recommending  something I know nothing about. What should I do?


Ask questions. It sounds simple enough, but sometimes we feel embarrassed to ask simple questions. There is no need to feel that way. You will feel much better, and be able to make a better decision, if you understand the dental procedure that is recommended to you. If you don't say anything, your dentist may think that you already understand.

Here are some tips when asking questions. Ask:

  • if you can see any pictures of the procedure or what it looks like when it is done;

  • how many times your dentist has done this procedure in the past;

  • how much it will cost;

  • how long it will take;

  • if it will need to be redone in the future;

  • if there are alternatives to the procedure and if so, what are the pros and cons of each option.

The final decision about how and when to proceed with any treatment is yours. To help you understand, the dentist may give you some printed material to read or may suggest that you call the national or provincial dental association for more information.


If you have already left the dental office without asking questions, call back later. Be careful about getting information from unknown sources, including those on the Internet. Some of it may not be reliable.


If, after all of your questions have been answered, you are still uncertain, you may wish to get a second opinion from another dentist. Often, this will give you the confidence that your dentist has planned the right treatment for you.




 Cost of dental treatments, payments and insurance


Why doesn't my dentist just accept payment from my insurance company? I don't have dental insurance and can't afford to go to the dentist. What can I do and why does dentistry cost so much anyway?


Dental plans, offered by many employers, are a means to help you pay for your dental treatment. Most Canadians enjoy dental plans and the insurance companies that provide them are actually benefit carriers. Carriers reimburse patients based on the level of coverage decided by the patient's employer.


When you visit the dentist, it's the dentist's role to make a treatment plan based on your oral health needs. Your needs may be different from what is covered by your dental plan. It is your right to decide whether or not to go ahead with any treatment. You should not decide based on what your plan covers. If you agree to have the treatment, it's your responsibility to pay for it. It is the responsibility of the benefits carrier's to reimburse you for the amount covered by your dental plan.


Many dentists are willing to contact a patient's benefits carrier, on a patient's behalf, to find out if a treatment is covered. The patient has to pay the portion that's not covered and the dentist may offer a payment plan to help.


If you do not have a dental plan and cannot afford to pay all of your bill at once, ask your dentist about a payment plan. If you cannot afford care, even with a payment plan, contact the nearest:

  • social services agency to see if you qualify for government-funded dental care;

  • dental society where they know about local programs to help people in need;

  • dental school where senior dental students provide treatment at a reduced cost.

Dental services may seem expensive. In Canada, we don't have to pay directly when we visit a doctor or hospital, so we may not realize the high cost of providing health services. Overhead costs are high for dentists. They have staff, equipment and other operating costs. The good news is that you can avoid costly dental work by brushing, flossing and visiting your dentist regularly for a check-up. Regular check-ups cost money, but they are less expensive than fixing serious dental problems that stem from neglect.