Family Dentistry in Valparaiso & Merrillville
at Heritage Lake Dental

Drs. Catherine Wong and John Smolnicky welcome you and your family to Heritage Lake Dental, with convenient locations serving Valparaiso, Merrillville, and the surrounding Chicagoland & Northwest Indiana communities.

We know that searching for a family dentist you can trust can be difficult, and we hope to make your selection easier by explaining our unique, whole-body approach to family dentistry.

A Whole-Body Approach to Family Dentistry

family smiling

Your mouth is part of a complex biological system that influences the health of the rest of your body. For example, the infection that causes gum disease can lead to a higher risk of stroke and heart disease.

Your body's internal systems are intertwined in intricate ways, which is why it's so important to take a whole-body approach to family dentistry. In short, family dentistry is about more than just taking care of a patient's teeth.

At Heritage Lake Dental, we also believe that great oral health can only be achieved if you're giving your body the right ingredients to heal and repair itself. Next time you visit our practice; ask about the line of nutraceuticals we recommend and about what they can do for your oral and total body health.

A Lifetime of Healthy Smiles for the Whole Family and More

We are honored to be the home dental practice to many of our area's military reservists. If you are in the military and in or near our offices in Merrillville or Valparaiso, ask your command about approved dentists in the area.

smiling family

We are also happy to treat students from Valparaiso University, and offer specials which can make treatment affordable for those without insurance.

At Heritage Lake Dental, you can expect:

• A safe place for your family (children starting at age 3 and up) to develop and
  learn good oral healthcare habits.
• Extensive, caring, professional patient education for the entire family.
• Family dentists and an entire staff of dental professionals who understand
  how to communicate in terms that everyone in the family will understand.
• Quality, conservative dentistry, including: general oral exams, teeth cleanings,
  composite fillings, crowns, veneers, root canal therapy, TMJ diagnosis, and
  dental implant restorations.
• Dentists who are warm, friendly, compassionate, skilled — caring
  professionals who are great listeners and who have you and your family's best
  interests in mind.

If you have any questions about our whole-body approach to family dentistry, please contact us. If you're ready to meet the family dentistry experts at Heritage Family Dental, give us a call or use our online appointment request form to get started. We look forward to meeting you and your family.

Dental Exams
A comprehensive dental exam will be performed by your dentist at your initial dental visit we will perform a comprehensive dental exam.  Then, at regular check-up exams, your dentist and hygienist will perform the following:
• Examination of diagnostic X-rays: Essential for detection of decay, tumors, cysts, and
  bone loss.  X-rays also help determine tooth and root positions.
• Oral cancer screening: Check the face, neck, lips, tongue, throat, tissues, and gums for
  any signs of oral cancer.
• Gum disease evaluation: Check the gums and bone around the teeth for any signs of
  periodontal disease.
• Examination of tooth decay: All tooth surfaces will be checked for decay with
  special dental instruments.
• Examination of existing restorations: Check current fillings, crowns, etc.

Professional Cleanings
Professional dental cleanings are performed by our Registered Dental Hygienists.  Your cleaning appointment will include a dental exam and the following:
• Remove tartar: Tartar is hardened plaque that has been left on the tooth for
  some time and is now firmly attached to the tooth surface.  Tartar forms above and below
  the gum line and can only be removed with special dental instruments.
• Remove plaque: Plaque is a sticky, almost invisible film that forms on the teeth.  It is a
  growing colony of living bacteria, food debris, and saliva.  The bacteria produce toxins
  (poisons) that inflame the gums and is the start of periodontal disease.
• Teeth polishing: Removes stains and plaque that is not otherwise removed during tooth
  brushing and scaling.

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A beautiful, healthy smile that lasts a lifetime is our ultimate goal when treating our family dentistry patients.  Your personal home care plays an important role in achieving that goal, including: eating balanced meals, reducing the number of snacks you eat, and correctly using the various dental aids that help control the plaque and bacteria that cause dental disease.

Tooth brushing
Brush your teeth at least twice a day (especially before going to bed at night) with an ADA approved soft bristle brush and toothpaste.
  1. Place the brush at a 45 degree angle to the gums and gently brush using a small, circular
      motion, ensuring that you always feel the bristles on the gums.
   2. Brush the outer, inner, and biting surfaces of each tooth.
   3. Use the tip of the brush to clean the inside of the front teeth.
   4. Brush your tongue to remove bacteria and freshen your breath.
Electric toothbrushes are also recommended.  They are easy to use and can remove plaque efficiently.  Simply place the bristles of the electric brush on your gums and teeth and allow the brush to do its job, several teeth at a time.

Daily flossing is the best way to clean between the teeth and under the gumline.  Flossing not only helps clean these spaces, it disrupts plaque colonies from building up, preventing damage to the gums, teeth, and bone. Floss holders are recommended if you have difficulty using conventional floss.
   1. Take 12-16 inches of dental floss and wrap it around your middle fingers,leaving about
       2 inches of floss between the hands.
   2. Using your thumbs and forefingers to guide the floss, gently insert the floss between
       teeth using a sawing motion.
   3. Curve the floss into a “C” shape around each tooth and under the gumline.  Gently move
       the floss up and down, cleaning the side of each tooth.

It is important to rinse your mouth with water after brushing and after meals if you are unable to brush.  If you are using an over-the-counter product for rinsing, it’s a good idea to consult with your dentist or dental hygienist on its appropriateness for you. Use other dental aids as recommended by your dentist or dental hygienist:  interdental brushes, rubber tip stimulators, tongue cleaners, irrigation devices, fluoride, medicated rinses, etc., can all play a role in good dental home care.

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Regular dental check ups are essential for maintaining excellent oral hygiene and diagnosing potential problems, but they are not a “fix-all” solution. Thorough oral homecare routines should be practiced on a daily basis to avoid future dental problems. Gum disease is the leading cause of tooth loss in the developed world, and is completely preventable in the vast majority of cases.

Professional cleanings twice a year combined with daily self-cleaning can remove a high percentage of disease-causing bacteria and plaque. In addition, teeth that are well cared for make for a sparkling white smile. There are numerous types of oral hygiene aids. Here are some of the most common:

There are a great many toothbrush types available. Electric toothbrushes are generally recommended by dentists because they are much more effective than manual brushes. The vibrating or rotary motion helps to easily dislodge plaque and remove food particles from around the gums and teeth. The same results can be obtained using a manual brush, but much more effort is needed to do so.

Manual toothbrushes should be replaced every three months because worn bristles become ineffective over time. Soft bristle toothbrushes are far less damaging to gum tissue than the medium and hard bristle varieties. In addition, an appropriate sized ADA approved toothbrush should be chosen to allow proper cleaning to all the teeth. Teeth should ideally be brushed after each meal, or minimally twice each day.

Dental Floss
Dental floss is the most common interdental and subgingival (below the gum) cleaner and comes in a variety of types and flavors. The floss itself is made from either thin nylon filaments or polyethylene ribbons, and can help remove food particles and plaque from between the teeth. Vigorous flossing with a floss holder can cause soft tissue damage and bleeding, so great care should be taken. Floss should normally be used twice daily after brushing.

Interdental Cleaners
Many hygienists and periodontists recommend interdental brushes in addition to dental floss.  These tiny brushes are gentle on the gums and very effective in cleaning the contours of teeth in between the gums. Interdental brushes come in various shapes and sizes.

Mouth Rinses
There are two basic types of mouth rinse available: cosmetic rinses which are sold over the counter and temporarily suppress bad breath, and therapeutic rinses which may or may not require a prescription.  Most dentists are skeptical about the benefits of cosmetic rinses because several studies have shown that their effectiveness against plaque is minimal. Therapeutic rinses however, are regulated by the FDA and contain active ingredients that can help reduce bad breath, plaque, and cavities. Mouth rinses should generally be used after brushing.

Oral Irrigators
Oral irrigators, like Water Jets and Waterpiks have been created to clean debris from below the gum line. Water is continuously sprayed from tiny jets into the gum pockets which can help remove harmful bacteria and food particles. Overall, oral irrigators have proven effective in lowering the risk of gum disease and should not be used instead of brushing and flossing. Professional cleanings are recommended at least twice annually to remove deeper debris.

Rubber Tip Stimulators
The rubber tip stimulator is an excellent tool for removing plaque from around the gum line and also for stimulating blood flow to the gums. The rubber tip stimulator should be traced gently along the outer and inner gum line at least once each day. Any plaque on the tip can be rinsed off with tap water. It is important to replace the tip as soon as it starts to appear worn, and to store the stimulator in a cool, dry place.

Tongue Cleaners
Tongue cleaners are special devices which have been designed to remove the buildup of bacteria, fungi and food debris from the tongue surface. The fungi and bacteria that colonize on the tongue have been related to halitosis (bad breath) and a great many systemic diseases like diabetes, heart disease, respiratory disease and stroke. Tongue cleaners can be made from metal, wood or plastic and shaped in accordance with the contours of the tongue. Tongue cleaning should be done prior to brushing to prevent the ingestion of fungi and bacteriA.

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Dental radiographs (X-rays) are essential, preventative, diagnostic tools that provide valuable information not visible during a regular dental exam.  Dentists and dental hygienists use this information to safely and accurately detect hidden dental abnormalities and complete an accurate treatment plan. Detecting and treating dental problems at an early stage can save you time, money, unnecessary discomfort, and your teeth!

Dental X-rays may reveal:
• Abscesses or cysts
• Bone loss
• Cancerous and non-cancerous tumors
• Decay between the teeth
• Developmental abnormalities
• Poor tooth and root positions
• Problems inside a tooth or below the gum line

Are dental X-rays safe?
Dental X-rays produce a low level of radiation and are considered safe.  Dentists take necessary precautions to limit the patient’s exposure to radiation when taking dental X-rays. These precautions include using lead apron shields to protect the body and using modern, fast film that cuts down the exposure time of each X-ray.

We are all exposed to natural radiation in our environment. The amount of radiation exposure from a full mouth series of X-rays is equal to the amount a person receives in a single day from natural sources.

How often should dental X-rays be taken?
The need for dental X-rays depends on each patient’s individual dental health needs.  Your dentist and dental hygienist will recommend necessary x-rays based on your medical and dental history, dental exam, signs and symptoms, age consideration, and risk for disease.

For new patients, we recommend a full-mouth series of dental X-rays. A full series is usually good for three to five years. Bite-wing X-rays (X-rays of top and bottom teeth biting together) are taken at check-up visits and are recommended once or twice a year to detect any new dental problems.

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Dental anxiety and fear can become completely overwhelming.  It is estimated that as many as 35 million people do not visit the dental office at all because they are too afraid, but having regular routine check-ups is the best and easiest way to maintain excellent oral health and reduce the need for more complex treatments. Here are some tips for reducing dental fear and anxiety:

Talk to us
We can't read minds. Though it can be hard to talk about your fears with a stranger, we can take extra precautions during visits if you tell us about any fear or anxiety you may have about your dental visit.

Bring a portable music player
Music acts as a relaxant and also drowns out any fear-producing noises.  Listening to calming music throughout the appointment can help to reduce anxiety.

Agree on a signal
Many people are afraid the dentist will not know if they are in pain during the appointment and will continue with the procedure regardless.  The best way to solve this problem is to agree on a “stop” hand signal.  Both parties can easily understand signals like raising the hand or tapping on the chair.

Take a mirror
Not being able to see what is happening can increase anxiety and make the imagination run wild.  Watching the procedure can help keep reality at the forefront of the mind.

If there is no other way to cope, sedation offers an excellent option for many people.  There are several types of sedation, but the general premise behind them is the same: the patient regains their faculties after treatment is complete.

Ask about alternatives
Advances in technology mean that dental microsurgery is now an option. Lasers can be used to prepare teeth for fillings, whiten teeth, and remove staining.  Ask us about your treatment options and together we'll decide on one that is effective and produces minimal anxiety.

If you have additional questions or concerns about how we can help you overcome anxiety and fear, please contact our office.

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Dental emergencies are quite frightening and often painful.  Prompt treatment is almost always required to stop the pain and to ensure the teeth have the best possible chance of survival. The pain caused by dental emergencies almost always gets worse without treatment, and dental issues can seriously jeopardize physical health. Here are some common dental emergencies and how to deal with them.

Tooth knocked out
If a tooth has been knocked clean out of the mouth, it is essential to see a dentist immediately. When a tooth exits the mouth, tissues, nerves, and blood vessels become damaged. If the tooth can be placed back into its socket within an hour, there is a chance the tissues will grow to support the tooth once again. Here are some steps to take:
1. Call our office.
2. Pick up the tooth by the crown and rinse it under warm water.  DO NOT touch the root.
3. If possible, place it back into its socket – if not tuck it into the cheek pouch.
4. If the tooth cannot be placed in the mouth, put the tooth into a cup of milk, saliva, or (as a
    last resort) water. It is important to keep the tooth from drying out.
5. Get to our office, quickly and safely.
We will try to replace the tooth in its natural socket.  In some cases, the tooth will reattach, but if the inner mechanisms of the teeth are seriously damaged, root canal therapy might be necessary.

Lost filling or crown
Crowns generally become loose because the tooth beneath is decaying; the decay causes the tooth to change shape, meaning the crown no longer fits. They usually come loose while eating. Once it is out of the mouth, the affected tooth may be incredibly sensitive to temperature changes and pressure.

If a crown has dropped out of the mouth, make a dental appointment as soon as possible.  Keep the crown in a cool, safe place because there is a possibility that we can reinsert it.  If the crown is out of the mouth for a long period of time, the teeth may shift or sustain further damage. When we are not immediately accessible, here are the steps to take:
1. Apply clove oil to the tooth to alleviate pain.
2. Clean the crown, and attach it back onto the tooth with dental cement, available at your
    local pharmacy. Do NOT use any kind of glue to attach the crown.
3. If the crown is lost, smear the top of the tooth with dental cement to alleviate discomfort.

We will check the crown to see if it still fits.  If it does, it will be reattached to the tooth. Where decay is noted, this will be treated and a new crown will be made.

Cracked or broken teeth
Teeth are strong, but can still crack or break. Sometimes cracks are fairly painless, but if the crack extends down into the root, it is likely that the pain will be extreme. Cracks and breaks can take several different forms, but are generally caused by trauma, grinding, and biting.

If a tooth has been fractured or cracked, there is no alternative but to schedule an appointment as quickly as possible. Where a segment of tooth has been broken off, here are some steps that can be taken at home:
1. Call our office as soon as possible.
2. Rinse the tooth fragment and the mouth with lukewarm water.
3. Apply gauze to the area for ten minutes if there is bleeding.
4. Place a cold, damp dish towel on the cheek to minimize swelling and pain.
5. Cover the affected area with dental cement until you can get to our office.
6. Take a topical pain reliever.

The nature of the break or fracture will limit what we are able to do.  If a fracture or crack extends into the root, root canal therapy is often the most effective way to retain the tooth. In the case of a complete break, we will usually affix the fragment back onto the tooth as a temporary measure.

Dislodged/loose teeth
When a tooth has been dislodged or loosened from its socket by trauma or decay, it might be possible to save it. If the tooth remains attached to the blood vessels and nerves, there is a good chance root canal therapy will not be necessary.

It is important to call our office immediately to make an appointment for us to reposition and stabilize the tooth. In the meantime, use a cold compress and over-the-counter medications to relieve pain. If the tooth fails to heal, root canal therapy might be required.

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For more information about our practice, dental treatment options, payment options, or any of the services we provide, call our Valparaiso office at 219-464-1141 or our Merrillville office at 219-769-8788. We look forward to serving your dental care needs.