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Dental expert answers questions about your teeth

Dr. Gary D. Hack is an associate professor and director of clinical simulation in the department of endodontics, prosthodontics and operative dentistry at the University of Maryland Dental School. He answered questions about dental care in a live chat on our Picture of Health blog. Here's an edited transcript of some of the questions and answers:

Question: How often should you brush your teeth?

Answer: You should brush at least twice a day and floss at least once a day. If you just had a professional dental cleaning done, plaque would form on your teeth and gums within 24 hours. Plaque is a soft, sticky substance that continually forms on your teeth and gums. Often undetected, plaque attacks the teeth and gums with the acid that it produces from the bacteria in your mouth.

Q: What causes tooth sensitivity?

A: Dental sensitivity is caused by a loss of the covering of the tooth — enamel and cementum, exposing the underlying dentin which contains thousands of pores. It is the movement of fluid in these pores or tubules that causes sensitivity. This exposure of dentin can be caused by gum disease, or trauma like using a hard-bristled toothbrush.

Q: I have receding gums. Is there anything I can do to prevent it from worsening? I brush and floss daily. Does using whitening strips have a negative effect on the gums?

A: Receding gums may be caused by gum disease and or trauma. Use a soft bristled toothbrush to brush with. Hard brushes can encourage gums to recede. Whitening strips can definitely increase sensitivity and prevent you from brushing adequately, which may lead to further gum disease and recession.

Q: When should a child first go to the dentist? Do you recommend a pediatric dentist?

A: I would definitely recommend a pedodontist as soon as the infant is 6 months old. It is very important to get your infant to a dental specialist early in their development.

Q: Are dental amalgams safe?

A: While questions have arisen about the safety of dental amalgams, the major U.S. and international scientific and health bodies have been satisfied that dental amalgam is a safe, reliable, and effective dental filling. It remains a valued treatment option for dentists and their patients. The ultimate decision about what filling to have placed in your mouth should be detemined in consultation with your dentist.

Q: I have been reading about Bisphenol-A in white dental fillings. Should I be concerned about my health since I have some white fillings?

A: Human exposure to BPA from dental resins is minimal and poses no known health risks, as reported by many scientific studies.

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