Your Dental Health Questions, Answered

Brush up on your dental knowledge with this bite-size Q&A and get healthy teeth and gums for life.

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Q. Which is better, a manual toothbrush or an electric one?

Either kind of brush is fine, but you are more likely to spend the right amount of time brushing—two to three minutes—when you’re using an electric toothbrush, says Barbara Ann Rich, a spokesperson for the Academy of General Dentistry and a dentist in Cherry Hill, New Jersey. (Manual brushers average less than one minute.) Whichever you use, choose one with soft bristles. Others may be too abrasive and could lead to receding gums. No matter what kind of brush you choose, be sure to floss daily.

Q. What causes receding gums, and what can be done about them?

There are a few main causes:

  • Overzealous toothbrushing. Brushing too hard around the gum line, or just brushing with bristles that are too hard, can erode gums.

  • Tooth grinding (a.k.a. bruxism). Some people grind so hard that the pressure accelerates gum erosion. In many cases, your dentist can shave down a tooth that is causing your bite to hit against another tooth. In other cases, you may need to get a customized mouth guard to wear at night (when most grinding and clenching occurs) to prevent further damage.

  • Gum disease. This is an infection of the gums that occurs when bacteria become lodged between the tooth and the gum. The bacteria eventually eat away at the bone and the supporting tissues at the base of the tooth. As the bone recedes, so does the surrounding gum tissue.

    What to do: Depending on the cause and the severity of the problem, a dentist may recommend anything from a deep cleaning of the teeth and gums to a gum graft, a procedure in which tissue is taken from the top of the mouth and grafted onto the gums, where it takes hold over the course of four to six weeks.

Q. How often do I need to visit a dentist and get X-rays?

The answer depends on the state of your teeth and gums. In general, most people (adults and children) should go to the dentist at least once a year and possibly every six months for a cleaning and to get checked for cavities. If your dentist says that you may be prone to gum disease or tooth decay, you may need to go more often than that.

As for X-rays, most dentists recommend having them taken about once a year. “Most decay starts between the teeth, which a dentist can’t see with a visual exam,” says Kimberly Harms, a spokesperson for the ADA and a dentist in Farmington, Minnesota.