OK, I may be exaggerating the truth a touch. In fact, it’s rare to find someone that says to me, “I’m due for X-RAYS? FREAKING AWESOME. I’ve been hoping for the last 6 months you would be taking x-rays today.”
Our patients just don’t say that!!!
In light of this fact, I would like to spend a few minutes going over some basic facts that will help you become better educated about dental x-rays. It’s my goal in writing this article about x-rays that you will know why we recommend them, when we recommend them, and how the radiation in dental x-rays compares to the exposure you experience in everyday life.
Why are x-rays needed and recommended?
During a standard exam, we are able to examine only visible surfaces of the teeth and soft tissue. x-rays allow the dentist to see small cavities developing in between teeth. Dental x-rays also allow us to evaluate the bone that supports and holds in the teeth. Once these areas become visible in the mouth, we often find that the tooth is already to the point where it needs a crown, root canal, or even extraction. Dental x-rays allow us to diagnose small cavities and stop them before they become bigger and more costly, painful problems. Additionally, x-rays allow the dentist to examine the mandible and maxilla for any unusual growths, cysts, tumors or other abnormalities. While cancer and tumors of the jaw are rare, the prognosis is always better the earlier you treat these areas. Just like any other medical disease, the sooner we find the problem, the easier it is for the dentist and patient to deal with and solve the problem.
When are x-rays recommended?
The answer to this question is based more on art than science. On average, we recommend that patients receive cavity detecting x-rays once a year, and an x-ray of their upper and lower jaw bone every 3 years. The frequency is dependent on the individual. However, if the patient has minimal dentistry in their mouth, flosses and brushes regularly, has a low sugar diet and maintains regular cleaning and check-up appointments then we can take x-rays less frequently. If the patient has a history of numerous crowns and fillings, if the patient has a diet high in sugar, or if the patient does not have a high level of home care (flossing with great irregularity), we recommend taking x-rays more frequently. There is no textbook answer. We review every patient based on their individual needs and recommend x-rays accordingly.
How much radiation are in dental x-rays?
There is no way around it, people are scared of excessive radiation in their lives. I get it, and I’m with you. What we have to do as a dental office is two-fold:
- Weigh the positive attributes of dental x-rays versus the negative effects of the radiation exposure.
- Maximize the benefits of the x-rays and minimize the radiation exposure.
How do we do this? THROUGH DIGITAL DENTAL X-RAYS!
Digital dental x-rays came on to the scene within the last 15 years, and we have been using this technology since we opened the office in 2001. Digital x-rays are much more diagnostic than traditional x-rays. They can be manipulated via software to see things that would not normally be seen via traditional x-ray. However, the most important aspect of the digital x-ray revolution is the SIGNIFICANT reduction in radiation exposure when compared to traditional dental x-rays.
So let’s talk real life . . . I hope you would be asking yourself, “HOW does the radiation exposure of a dental x-ray compare to other radiation I’m exposed to throughout my day?”
As you may know, radiation is measured in millirems (mrems). On average, one digital dental x-ray gives off 0.1 mrems.
Is that a lot or a little? Well let’s compare . . . .
According to the American Nuclear Society, this is how much radiation you expect from common activities:
So as you can see, when comparing radiation amounts from a dental digital x-ray to basic events that occur in our lives every day, the amount of exposure from dental films is minimal, arguably negligible.
I hope this clears up some of the common misconceptions regarding why x-rays are needed, when patients should have them taken and what is the risks associated with dental x-rays. Please do not hesitate to reach out to us if you have any additional questions or concerns.