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Dental X-rays: The Inside Story

August 18th, 2021

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, Dr. Guijon 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 Huntington Beach, CA 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!

When Is a “Cavity” Not a Cavity?

August 11th, 2021

Is this a trick question? After all, you and your family probably already know quite a lot about cavities:

  • It all begins when bacteria-filled plaque sticks to teeth and starts to attack enamel. How?
  • Because the bacteria in plaque use the sugars and other foods we eat to produce acids.
  • These acids gradually weaken teeth by dissolving minerals that help make up our enamel (a process called demineralization).
  • Over time, a hole, or cavity, develops in the tooth surface.
  • Left untreated, bacterial decay can spread to the inside of the tooth, creating a more serious cavity.

Dr. Guijon might discover an unexpected cavity at a regularly scheduled dental exam at our Huntington Beach, CA office, but there are also some symptoms that should have you calling for an appointment. A cavity can cause sensitivity when eating something hot or cold, or it can be painful, or you might even notice visible discoloration or damage to the tooth surface.

So, if your child has any of these symptoms, it’s a cavity, right? It might be—but it might not. Sometimes, because the symptoms are similar, what we suspect is a cavity is really enamel erosion.

The bacteria-created acids weaken enamel. But it’s not just bacteria that subject our teeth to acids. Acidic foods are one of the leading causes of tooth erosion.

And while we expect damage from a lifetime of acidic foods and beverages to catch up with us as we age, the fact is that erosion is becoming a problem even for young children. How is this possible? Let’s look at some food chemistry.

Our normal saliva pH level is around a 7, which is neutral. Any number lower is acidic; any number higher is alkaline. Acidic foods have a low pH (the pH of lemon juice, for example, measures between 2 and 3), and can reduce our normal, neutral pH level. When saliva pH levels drop to 5.5 or lower, tooth enamel starts to demineralize, just as it does when exposed to the acids from oral bacteria.

Regularly snacking on citrus and other acidic fruits, fruit juices, flavored drinks, sour candies, and other acidic foods can cause enamel erosion. Especially erosive are sports drinks, energy drinks, and colas, because they contain some combination of citric acid, phosphoric acid and/or carbonation.

So, when might you suspect enamel erosion? Your child might be sensitive to hot or cold foods, or feel pain, or even have noticeable enamel loss or pitting. Even though these symptoms may not have been caused by plaque and bacteria, acidic erosion from our diets leaves weakened enamel just as vulnerable to cavities and decay.

How to avoid erosion?

  • Serve acidic foods sparingly, or as part of a meal. This helps our saliva pH stay in the neutral zone.
  • Balance acidic foods with low-acid choices to neutralize acids and restore a normal pH balance. For example, mix those acidic berries with a banana.
  • Use a straw! These are not only fun, but this simple solution keeps erosive drinks from bathing young teeth in acids.
  • Encourage your child to drink water instead of an acidic beverage, or drink it afterward to rinse acids away. The pH of pure water? A perfect, neutral 7. And by using tap water instead of bottled water, you’ll be providing fluoride, which helps strengthen enamel.
  • What about brushing right after eating or drinking something acidic? Ask Dr. Guijon if your child should rush for the brush. We may recommend waiting 30 minutes or so after an acidic treat to give the teeth time to remineralize. Otherwise, brushing might cause more wear and tear on enamel.
  • Finally, while foods are often the source of acid erosion, medical conditions can cause erosion as well. Talk to us about ways to minimize erosion while addressing these medical needs.

Be proactive. Ask your Dr. Guijon about healthy drinks and snacks for healthy teeth. Make sure to keep on top of brushing and flossing, and stick with fluoride toothpastes. And visit our Huntington Beach, CA office regularly for exams and cleanings.

There’s really no trick to it—preventing enamel erosion helps keep your child’s teeth structurally strong and cavity-free for a lifetime of beautiful and healthy adult smiles.

Should Children Use Whitening Products?

August 4th, 2021

As adults, we often wish our teeth could be as white as they were when we were small children. Baby teeth have thinner and whiter enamel than adult teeth, and those brilliant smiles are a result! But occasionally, you may be surprised to discover some staining or discoloration on those lovely first teeth. You might be tempted to apply a whitening product to your child’s teeth, but, please—read on!

Causes of Staining

  • Improper Brushing—Often, a loss of tooth whiteness means that plaque has built up on the tooth surface. Careful brushing is needed to remove bacteria and plaque, and if your child isn’t brushing at least twice a day for two minutes, discoloration can be the result.
  • Medications—When given in liquid form, or when added to formula or food, iron supplements can cause dark grey staining on the teeth. Medications taken by a mother while pregnant or breast feeding, such as tetracycline, can also lead to discoloration.
  • Injury—If a tooth suffers a serious injury, the tooth can darken because of changes inside the enamel.
  • Health conditions—Certain health problems can cause tooth discoloration, or sometimes children are born with weaker enamel that is more likely to stain.

If you have noticed any staining on your child’s primary teeth, call our Huntington Beach, CA office. Simple stains can often be removed with better brushing techniques, and we can clean other surface stains in the office. Staining caused by an injury or a health condition is something we can discuss in detail with you. We can even use some professional whitening methods if those are indicated.

Why not just buy a home whitening kit for your child? There are several important reasons to leave these products on the shelf while your child is young.

  • Whitening kits are designed for adults. They have been tested for adult teeth in adult trials. Check the box for age appropriate use. Most products are not recommended for pre-teen children.
  • Remember that thinner enamel we mentioned earlier? Add to that the delicate skin of young children, and it’s sensible to be cautious about using a bleaching agent that can cause mouth and tooth sensitivity even in adults.
  • There is no body of evidence available as to the short and long term effects of using these products on children.

If you are concerned about the brightness of your child’s smile, please talk to Dr. Guijon. We can recommend better ways to brush at home, clean your child’s teeth in the office, or suggest professional methods of whitening if there are physical or psychological reasons that it would be valuable. But while your child is young, those off-the-shelf whitening products can wait a few more years.

Can a Night Guard Mean Sweet Dreams for Your Child?

July 28th, 2021

Sometimes the reason for a poor night’s sleep is obvious. Maybe your child watched a scary movie. Or loaded up on sugar before bed. Or can’t get to sleep after a night of computer screens or video games. Not much we can do about these problems.

Sometimes, though, the cause of your child’s sleep difficulties is dental in origin, and that is something Dr. Guijon can help with.

Teeth grinding, or bruxism, is a very common childhood dental problem. While children with this condition sleep, their jaws clench and their teeth grind against each other throughout the night. When to suspect children might suffer from bruxism? When they experience:

  • Frequent headaches or facial pain
  • Waking with a sore jaw, or popping or clicking jaw sounds through the day
  • Teeth which are chipped, cracked, flattened, worn down, or sensitive
  • Waking up tired, because grinding affects the quality of sleep
  • Siblings who complain about nocturnal grinding noises, which affect the quality of their

Pain and fatigue are unpleasant enough, but there are additional serious consequences for those who suffer from bruxism. Our jaws are extremely powerful, and clenching and grinding can put hundreds of pounds on pressure on teeth and jaws over a few hours of sleep.

These forces can lead to damaged teeth and dental work, and problems with the temporomandibular joint, or TMJ, the complex hinge that allows our jaws to move up and down, back and forth, and side to side.

Clearly, prevention is clearly a much better option for a healthy smile. And one of the simplest and most effective treatments for preventing the damage caused by bruxism is a night guard.

Night guards fit over the affected teeth to prevent them from touching directly, saving tooth and enamel from injury and wear. Not only do night guards prevent contact, they spread the biting forces of the jaw over the surface of the guard to greatly reduce their impact. And because they also stop the jaw muscles from clenching tightly, there’s no excess stress placed on the temporomandibular joint.

For all these reasons, a night guard is pretty much a slam dunk for adults who grind their teeth. But for children, it’s not necessarily an automatic decision. Why?

  • If tooth grinding is mild and appears to be limited to baby teeth, children often outgrow the condition. Your dentist can let you know if you need to do more than monitor the situation.
  • Sometimes it seems like your child’s smile changes from day to day. Between losing baby teeth and erupting adult teeth, this beautiful smile is a work in progress. A fitted night guard might not be a perfect fit while your child’s teeth are still coming in and shifting position.
  • Finally, jaw and facial pain can also be caused by problems with your child’s bite or misaligned teeth, and that might mean that an orthodontic consultation is in order.

But if you suspect your child is suffering the effects of night time grinding and clenching, give our Huntington Beach, CA office a call. A thorough examination will provide you with the best diagnosis and solutions for helping your child retain a healthy smile and regain a healthy night’s sleep.

And if a night guard is recommended, a dental professional is the best person to see for the most effective night guard.

While over-the-counter products are available, a custom night guard is designed to fit your child’s individual teeth and mouth perfectly. Impressions or 3D scans are taken in the office, and a guard is fabricated with the precise shape, strength, and thickness needed to protect young teeth. And, as a bonus, custom night guards offer the most comfortable fit for the most comfortable night’s sleep.

Scary movies, a late night sugar rush, mesmerizing video screens—not much we can do about those! But if your child is suffering lost sleep and painful mornings because of tooth grinding, give us a call. A night guard just might be the key to sweet dreams.