Minahan Dental
(206) 365-5454


What can I do about my discolored teeth?

Professional tooth whitening (bleaching) is a simple, non-invasive dental treatment that is used to change the color of natural tooth enamel. Over-the-counter products are also available, but are generally much less effective than professional treatments and may need to be used much longer for optimal results. Commonly these products will give your teeth an initial brightness, but over time they will fade back to a darker color. Also these products may not be approved by the American Dental Association. For long term success we recommended an in-office whitening technique. Our technique is accomplished over a few week time period. First, you will have an initial treatment at the dental office in which the dentist will make models of your teeth. You will then be sent home with clear, custom-made retainers with whitening solution that will be used daily at home. Following a specific time period, you will return to the office for a final check of shade changes. This technique provides optimal results for a long lasting bright smile!

The color of our teeth comes from the inside layer (dentin) of our teeth, which becomes darker with age. Over time the outer layer of our teeth (enamel) wears away, eventually revealing a darker or yellow shade. Additionally, some people have a thinner, more translucent layer, of enamel that allows the darker inner dentin to yield a darker tooth color. Smoking, drinking coffee, tea and wine may also contribute to the discoloration. Teeth can also become discolored from taking certain medications as a child, such as tetracycline. It is important to have your teeth evaluated to determine the cause of your tooth discoloration and if you are a good candidate for whitening. Some stains and discolorations can be resistant to tooth whitening and we may suggest an alternative, such as veneers or crowns, to cover the discoloration.

Since tooth whitening only works on natural tooth enamel, it will not work on teeth with previous restorations such as fillings or crowns. If you are planning to whiten your teeth do so before replacing older restorations as the new restoration can be matched to your new color after whitening. Since whitening is not permanent, a touch-up may be needed to keep your smile looking bright!

Are silver fillings (amalgam) safe?

Over the years there have been reports as to the safety of amalgam (silver) fillings. An amalgam filling is a blend of copper, silver, tin and zinc, bound by elemental mercury. This mixture has been used by dentists to fill teeth for more than 100 years. The concern is due to claims that the exposure to mercury vapor and minute particles can cause a variety of health issues. The American Dental Association states that silver fillings are safe and studies have failed to find a link between silver containing mercury and any medical disorder. Along with the ADA's position, the Center for Disease Control (CDC), the World Health Organization, the FDA and other respected organizations support the use of silver fillings as safe, durable, and cost effective. The general consensus is that amalgam (silver) filling are safe.

How often should I have dental cleanings and exams?

Each of our individual needs our unique but generally speaking you should have your teeth checked and cleaned at least twice a year, although your dentist or dental hygienist may recommend more frequent visits. Regular dental exams and cleanings are pivotal in preventing dental problems and maintaining optimal health of your teeth and gums. At these dental visits your teeth are professionally cleaned and your mouth is examined by a dentist. Among things that are checked and monitored to help detect, prevent and maintain your dental health:

  • Medical History Review- updating the status of any current medical conditions, new medications, and illnesses ensures we can safely treat and manage your personal needs.
  • Oral Cancer Screening- checking the face, neck, lips, tongue, throat, tissues and gums for any signs of change or cancer.
  • Examination of x-rays (radiographs)- normally x-rays will be updated every year. These x-rays are essential for detection of decay, tumors, cysts and bone health.
  • Gingival (gums) evaluation- checking the gums and bone around each tooth for any signs of infection or bone loss.
  • Examination of tooth decay- all surfaces of each tooth will be evaluated for decay, crack lines, wear, staining and position.
  • Evaluation of existing restorations- checking current restorations (fillings, crowns, ect) to ensure no changes have occurred.
  • Removal of plaque and calculus- removal of any build up on the tooth surfaces with special dental instruments. This bacterial build up is the start of periodontal (gum) disease.
  • Oral hygiene instruction- our dental hygienists observe, instruct and review oral hygiene technique and recommends any helpful dental products.

I have a cavity, but how come it doesn't hurt?

Decay starts in the outer layer of the tooth, the enamel. This tooth layer has no nerves, so when decay is present there is no pain associated with it. It is only once the decay becomes more moderate in size that most people experience pain. That is because now the decay is very close to the inside nerve of the tooth or already into the nerve of the tooth.

What is a Root Canal?

A root canal is a therapy to treat a disorder of the nerve (pulp) of the tooth. Usually it is done when a tooth has an infected nerve and there is pain and discomfort (sometimes an infected nerve can present without any pain or discomfort). The diseased nerve is removed and the empty chamber is cleaned and sterilized. Then the chamber is filled with a special filling material. A temporary filling is placed until a final restoration can be done. Following root canal treatment a protective crown is usually required to prevent future fracturing of the tooth.

Is there a link between gum disease and heart disease?

Studies have found that the incidence of heart disease is about twice as high in people with periodontal (gum) disease. Periodontal disease may increase your risk for a variety of health concerns including: Diabetes, Stroke, Weakened Immune system, Lung Disease, Pre-term low birth weight babies, Respiratory Disease, Osteoporosis, and Stomach ulcers. By keeping regular maintenance appointments with your dental team, you will help increase your chances for a long and healthy life.

When should my child first go to the dentist?

It is recommended that every child should have a dental appointment by the age of one. It is important to brush your child's baby teeth and to look inside their mouths every day. If at any time you see dark spots or stained areas then it is advisable to make a dental appointment right away regardless of the age of the child. Additionally, when children begin walking there is a high incidence of tripping and falling that may cause trauma to the face or teeth. Constantly observe your child's teeth for chipping, fractures and discolorations.

What is Nitrous Oxide (Laughing Gas)?

Nitrous oxide gas, often referred to as laughing gas or happy air, is an effective analgesic drug that helps to relax patients during dental treatment. Laughing gas is a safe, effective mixture of nitrous oxide and oxygen. It has no color, smell and does not irritate.

The benefits of nitrous oxide are many, and the risks are few. The gas is administered with a comfortable mask placed over the nose, and you are instructed to breathe in through the nose and out through their mouth. You will begin to feel pleasant level of relaxation anywhere from 30 seconds to three or four minutes. The cheeks and gums will also begin to feel numb in about a third of patients. After the gas is adjusted to the appropriate dose and the patient is relaxed, we will comfortably provide local anesthetic “Novocain” (if needed), and then proceed with dental treatment. After the treatment is completed, you are given pure oxygen to breathe for about five minutes, and all the effects of sedation are usually reversed. Unlike IV sedation or general anesthesia, you can almost always drive home yourself, without accompaniment.

Dentists find nitrous oxide especially useful for fearful patients as well as young children. The effect of nitrous oxide is often remarkable. A patient that was anxious just a minute or two before treatment will become relaxed and calm. If you are nervous before or during dental treatment, just ask Dr. Minahan or staff to try the nitrous oxide (there is NO additional cost) -- it works wonders!

Why do I have bad breath?

Bad breath can be related to many different factors. The most common are:

  • Morning hours- during sleep saliva flow almost stops, reducing cleansing action, which allows bacteria to grow, causing bad breath.
  • Poor oral hygiene- food particles remaining in the mouth promote bacterial growth, causing bad breath.
  • Certain foods- garlic, onions, dairy products, etc. Foods containing odor-causing compounds enter the blood stream; they are transferred to the lungs and exhaled as bad breath.
  • Periodontal (gum) disease- colonies of bacteria and food debris residing under inflamed gums cause bad breath.
  • Dry mouth (Xerostomia)- may be caused by certain medications, salivary gland problems or continuous mouth breathing. These reduce salivary flow and its cleansing action, causing bad breath.
  • Tobacco products- chemicals in the tobacco can stain teeth and gums as well as cause dry mouth, causing bad breath.
  • Dental Cavities- may contribute to bad breath, especially if an infection is present.
  • Certain medical conditions and illnesses- diabetes, liver and kidney problems, chronic sinus infections, bronchitis and pneumonia are several conditions that may contribute to bad breath.

Preventing bad breath:

  • Practice good oral hygiene- brush at least twice a day with toothpaste. Floss daily to remove food particles and bacteria from between your teeth. Brush your tongue or use a tongue scraper to clean your tongue and back areas. If you wear dentures or a removable partial, clean them thoroughly.
  • Stop using tobacco- ask your dentist or physician for different ways to break your habit if you are not able to stop on your own.
  • Drinking water frequently- water helps cleanse and rinse your mouth as well as washing away bacteria.
  • Uses of mouthwashes or rinses- Most over-the-counter products only provide a temporary solution to mask unpleasant mouth odor. Along with good oral hygiene, mouthwashes can be helpful creating a more permanent solution.
  • See your dentist regularly- get a dental check-up and cleaning at least twice a year. If you have periodontal (gum) disease your dentist will recommend more frequent visits.

How often should I brush and floss?

Daily brushing and flossing is the key to optimal oral health. Brushing and flossing help control plaque and bacteria that cause dental disease and cavities! Plaque is a film of bacteria, food debris and saliva that builds on your teeth. The bacteria will convert the particles into acid that attacks your teeth and causes decay. When the plaque builds up it transforms into a hard substance (tarter or “calculus”) that will begin to destroy the gums and surrounding bone.

Tooth brushing:

  • brush at least twice a day (especially before bedtime).
  • brush for at least 2 minutes each time you brush.
  • brush at a 45 degree angle to the gums using a small, gentle, circular motions.
  • brush the inside, outside and biting surfaces of each tooth.
  • brush your tongue to remove bacteria.


  • floss at least once a day.
  • wrap the floss around your middle fingers and use your thumbs and forefingers to guide the floss, gently between each tooth.
  • curve the floss around each tooth and under the gum line. Gently move the floss up and down multiple times to clean the sides of each tooth.