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Risks, benefits and alternatives: Questions you should ask your dentist

By: George Malkemus
July 20, 2018

As a patient, you should always understand the risks, benefits and alternatives to any treatment. You want to make sure to receive the health care you need and deserve. Healthcare professionals try to help you decided what is the best treatment for your special needs. It is important that you receive enough information to make an informed decision. It is always a good plan to ask questions during your office visits. Sometimes it is hard to know what exactly to ask. To help you, I have put together some sample questions, particularly with dentistry in mind.

What is the recommended procedure?

Ask for a detailed description of the procedure, why it is recommended and what typically happens while it’s performed. Ask how long the procedure will take and the number of visits necessary to complete treatment. Some procedures take more than one appointment and you will be better able to plan your schedule. Having this discussion will reduce the chance of surprise and it may also bring to mind other health issues that are important.

For example, if you were having a fixed dental bridge to replace a missing tooth, you must know what a bridge is, why you need the bridge and its advantages and disadvantages, as well as the alternatives to a bridge, such as an implant or partial denture. Plus, you will want to know how to best take care of your new bridge.

What are my options for controlling discomfort?

Many people are surprised to learn that modern dentistry is generally pain-free. There are a variety of methods available for avoiding pain, discomfort and anxiety. Some of these include nitrous oxide, headphones and conscious sedation. Your comfort needs are important questions for you to consider. 

What results should I expect from the procedure?

The answer will explain the benefits of the procedure. With cosmetic dentistry you should have a smile design. Using models of your teeth and digital photos of your smile, you will see how your teeth and mouth will look and function.  

What are the alternatives to the procedure?

Depending on your oral health needs, a variety of solutions will be offered. The best choice can depend on a number of considerations, including the conditions in your mouth, your time requirements, your financial situation and your general heath. For example:

• A missing tooth can often be treated with an implant, a bridge, or a partial denture; whichever best fits your situation.

• Early periodontal disease can be treated with scaling and root planning, while a more advanced infection may require medication or surgery.

• Discolored teeth can be treated with whitening, but if you would also like to improve the alignment of your teeth, you might prefer veneers, crowns, or a combination of bleaching and braces.

• You also have the option to do nothing and to know the outcome of that non-treatment choice.

What are the risks or complications of the procedure?

Understanding the risks of treatment and also the risks of not proceeding with the treatment are an important part of having an informed consent. Considering the risks or complications of each treatment alternative can help you decide on the best one for you. 

All healthcare procedures have some risk. However, in dentistry, risks are exceedingly small. Dental training, professional standards and the state regulations are designed to insure patient safety. This is done through measures like wearing masks and gloves to control infection, using a rubber dam or an isolite to protect a patient’s mouth and throat, prescribing antibiotics for some patients prior to certain dental procedures and finding out about a patient’s health history.

How soon should I have the procedure? 

Depending on the circumstances, some dental problems need treatment right away. In others, treatment can be delayed for a short time. It all depends on how advanced your condition is, your general health and the thoroughness of your home-care routine. I don’t advise permanently putting off dental treatment because problems in the mouth can become more serious, requiring more extensiveand expensive treatment and costing you more time and money. Here are a couple of examples:

• If a tooth gets a cavity that is left untreated, that cavity can infect the tooth’s nerve, leading to root canal therapy. If the decay in the tooth’s nerve is left untreated, an abscess can form around the tooth’s root, causing pain and eventually spread the infection to other parts of the jaw and face.

• If the gums become inflamed with untreated gingivitis, periodontal disease can develop. If this is left untreated, the gum infection can eventually cause loose teeth.  Most teeth that are lost are due to gum disease. 

You should feel comfortable about your health decisions and never feel pressured into having a treatment that you do not feel is right for you. It is important to keep the lines of communication open with your health professional. And remember—there is no such thing as a silly question!

George Malkemus has a Family and Cosmetic Dental Practice in Rohnert Park at 2 Padre Parkway, Suite 200. Call 585-8595, or email info@  Visit Dr. Malkemus’ Web site at