Frequently Asked Questions

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What kind of training is required to be a dentist?

Most dentists have attended a four year university and have a bachelor’s degree in an area of science. Dental schools are also four years in length where the student learns both the science behind what they do and the technical aspects of how to dentistry. During their dental school years, there are two national board examinations that the student is required to pass to demonstrate their knowledge and understanding of the information they have learned. After graduation, there is a state dental board examination that each dentist must pass which includes both a written and a clinical examination. In California, this examination is four days long and there includes procedures performed on patients to demonstrate the dentist’s skills and abilities.

Only after successfully passing all these exams is a dentist given a license to practice dentistry. Most dentists have taken 8 years to complete these requirements. Dentists are also required to renew their licenses every 2 years and complete a minimum of 50 hours of continuing education to keep up with new information in their field.
I see a lot of initials behind the names of the staff in the dental office. What do they mean?

D.D.S.- Doctor of dental surgery

D.M.D.-Doctor of dental medicine

R.D.H.- Registered dental hygienist

R.D.A.- Registered dental assistant

D.A.- Dental assistant

R.D.A.E.F.- Registered dental assistant expanded function

Each designation gives that person the ability to perform certain duties as prescribed by state law.
What is the difference between D.D.S. and a D.M.D.?

 Simply the school the dentist graduated from and the type of degree they confer to the gradates. The training and curriculum in the United States among dental schools is set by the national standards is virtually the same from school to school throughout the nation. To insure schools are maintaining their programs, they are reviewed periodically by a process known as accreditation.
How can I determine if my dentist has a valid dental license?

There are two methods. First, ask to see his or her dental license if it is not posted where you can see it. To insure it is current, ask to see the wallet license the Dental Board of California sends to each dentist with the license renewal. Second, you can contact the Dental Board of California and verify your dentist has a valid and current license.
Do all dental offices accept my dental insurance?

Each office has its policy regarding insurance. Not all dentists will be participants in all dental plans. You will need to contact the office you will be visiting and verify that they do accept your insurance and if you are on a certain program, if that dentist is a participant for your particular plan.
How do I stop bleeding after having a tooth removed?

Typically after a tooth is removed, some bleeding is expected so the dental office will place a gauze square in the area and have you bite down for 30 minutes. If there is still some significant bleeding, place another gauze square in the site and bite down for another 30 minutes. It is important not to disturb the gauze for the full 30 minutes, as that will only cause bleeding to continue. If the bleeding has still not stopped, wet a tea bag and place it in the area and bite just as you did with the gauze. Once the tea bag is removed, if the bleeding has still not stopped, call your dentist and inform them of the situation and what steps you have taken to control the problem.
Why are x-rays necessary?

No examination is complete without both a visual inspection and x-rays because there are certain things that one will show that the other will not. There are numerous things that x-rays reveal like decay between teeth, bone loss from gum disease, depth of decay in a tooth (important for the dentist to know before they go in!), impacted or unerupted teeth that may be causing damage to other teeth, cysts, abscesses, tumors, and much more. Dental x-rays are an invaluable tool to your dentist to insure your mouth is in the best health possible.
What are the differences between silver (metal) fillings and tooth colored (composite) fillings?

Silver fillings are a combination of different metals (tin, copper, silver, zinc) and mercury and have been used for over 100 years. They are still the most durable material for back teeth. The tooth colored or composite fillings have gained favor for several reasons not the least of which is they look much nicer than the metal. Some people have concerns over the mercury in the silver fillings, however the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has looked extensively at this issue and ruled the silver fillings not to be a problem. Like any controversial topic, there will always be some that dispute this ruling. Your dentist likely has formed an opinion regarding this subject and is very qualified to answer your questions. Most dentists now offer both types to their patients. Be sure to ask!
What are the different specialties in dentistry and what do they do?

Those that you are most likely to encounter are:

Endodontist- deals with problems with the nerve of the tooth or root canals

Periodontist- deals with gum disease

Prosthodontist- specializes in difficult cases involving crowns, bridges, dentures, partials, full mouth reconstruction ( multiple crowns)

Pediatric dentists- specializes in children’s dental care

Orthodontist- straightens teeth (braces)

Oral Surgeons- removes teeth including wisdom teeth, deals with accidents and dental trauma, surgery to correct growth defects

Most specialties tale 2 years of additional training after dental school. Oral surgery is a 3 to 4 year program depending on the school.
Can’t my general dentist do all my work? Why do I have to go to a specialist?

Most general dentists do most types of dental treatment, however, there will always be certain procedures that are more difficult and your dentist is best equipped and trained to determine when he or she feels they can or cannot provide you with the best care. Remember they need to evaluate each tooth, each procedure , and each patient and have your best interest in mind. If they refer you, they are doing so to help you receive the best care possible.


 What can I do to minimize plaque build-up?

Brush at least 2 to 3 times daily. In brushing the outer surface of the teeth, tilt the brush at a 45-degree
angle against the gum-line. Gently brush back and forth in short strokes.  Also be sure to brush the chewing surface of the molars. After Brushing the outer surface of your teeth, apply the same method to the inner surface.

Flossing often may also help in reducing plaque build-up. Apply the floss between the teeth. Gently curve the floss around the tooth in a c-shape. Slide the floss in an up and down motion very gently.
How do I find a dentist?

There are several ways you can find a dentist. You can search our database of dentists that are members of the American Dental Association, California Dental Association and Contra Costa Dental Society.  The database allows you to search by specialty (i.e. General Dentistry, Orthodontics, etc), zip code and etc. In addition, once you find the list of dentists, you can visit the dentists pages and review the insurance they accept, hours of operation, etc. You can also get detailed directions to your dental office.

Secondly, you can call the Contra Costa County Dental Society for a referral.

Thirdly, you can ask family or your physician.

What is Gum Disease?

Braces and Dentures related questions