Here at Better Dental, some of the most common questions patients ask us relate to dental X-rays: Why do we take them? What are the different types of X-rays? How often do we need to take them? Are they safe? How much radiation exposure does a dental X-ray yield? These are great questions and concerns that we take seriously. The health and safety of our patients is our number one priority.
So why do we take dental X-rays? X-rays are essential diagnostic tools. While physical exams are important and can find signs of any noticeable issues, many oral diseases are not visible during the clinical exam. With dental X-rays, oral diseases such as decay, gum disease, infections, and even some types of cancer can be detected and identified. When properly diagnosed, these diseases can usually be treated before significant problems develop.
There are three main types of dental X-rays that are commonly used: bitewings, periapicals, and panoramic radiographs. Bitewings are taken to evaluate the crown portions of teeth to check for early signs of decay. These X-rays are typically taken on a yearly basis so that any early signs of disease can be diagnosed and potentially stopped before the need for a filling. Periapical X-rays are utilized to evaluate the full length of the tooth in bone. These are used to rule out infections and help diagnose gum disease. These X-rays are useful in diagnosing sources of pain and infection. Panoramic X-rays are taken to provide an image of the entire oral cavity. Because these images include all teeth and the surrounding facial structures, this X-ray is primarily used to identify impactions of permanent teeth, cysts, tumors, jaw disorders, and bone irregularities. These X-rays are typically taken every 3-5 years.
Many patients voice questions about the safety of dental X-rays in relation to radiation exposure. While this concern is understandable, there really is no need for alarm. Dental X-ray tools and techniques are designed to limit the body’s exposure to radiation and every precaution is taken to ensure that radiation exposure is as low as reasonably achievable (the ALARA principle). A leaded apron minimizes exposure to the abdomen and a leaded thyroid collar protects the thyroid from radiation. As technology has advanced, the amount of radiation that a patient is exposed to has been reduced to miniscule levels. In our office we use digital X-rays, which give 70% less exposure to radiation than film X-rays. Below is a chart to help show you how dental X-rays compare to our radiation exposure in everyday life.
As you can see from the data on the chart, the rewards of dental X-rays far out-weigh the risks. Oral health, as the medical world has confirmed over and over again, is essential to the overall health of the entire body. The Good Lord gives each of us just one set of natural teeth – which of course are essential for proper chewing and speaking. That single set needs to last all of our days. And, with current life expectancy being just shy of 80 years, we need to be vigilant in protecting the health of our teeth and gums.