Dear Dr. Ellis,
Why is that I have to get xrays when I come into the office if nothing is hurting or bothering me? And how safe are they really?
What are x-rays?
X-rays or radiographs are pictures of the teeth, bones and soft tissues around them to help find problems with the teeth, mouth and jaw. X-rays will allow the dentist to see cavities that aren’t large enough to see with the naked eye, infections, hidden teeth or abnormalities, and bone loss. X-rays are necessary in completing a proper and thorough examination.
What are the different kind of x-rays and why do you take them?
Bitewing x-rays show the upper and lower back teeth and how the teeth touch each other in a single view. These x-rays are primarily used to show decay between the teeth and bone loss. These should be taken about every 6 to 12 months.
Periapical x-rays show the entire tooth from root to tip. These are used to find any problems that may exist below the gumline or in the jaw, such as impacted teeth, abscesses, cysts, tumors or changes in the bone. These are usually taken when you complain of a tooth ache or sensitivity, or to follow dental treatment to confirm completion.
Panoramic x-rays show a broad view of the jaws, teeth, sinuses, nasal area, and temporomandibular joints (TMJ). This kind of x-ray is not intended to find decay, it is more to see tooth alignment, wisdom teeth, lesions, infections and fractures. You will most likely have one of these taken before having orthodontics, oral surgery or an implant placed.
A full-mouth series of x-rays consists of 14-21 films and should be done on a patients initial visit, and should be updated about every 3 -5 years, depending on the patient’s health and how much dental work they already have, or how often they tend to get cavities or infections.
How safe are x-rays?
There are so many different sources of radiation, it is almost impossible to avoid it. Radiation can be found from exposure to the sun, minerals in the soil, appliances in your home and dental x-rays. Exposure to radiation can damage the body’s tissues and cells, and can eventually lead to the development of cancer. Fortunately, the dose of radiation that you are exposed to during the taking of dental x-rays, is extremely small.
Thanks to the advances in dentistry over the past 20 years, the amount of exposure in dental x-rays has reduced dramatically! With the introduction of digital x-rays that limit the radiation beam to a smaller area and the use of x-ray holders to make sure the film is placed correctly in the mouth (which prevents slipping and the need to retake, in turn reducing the exposure), patients can feel safe with the minimum amount of exposure they are now getting at the dental office. Plus, the use of lead lined aprons that will protect against any stray radiation, is almost deemed unnecessary since machines are required to be checked for accuracy and safety quite frequently.
So, there are lots of reasons that we take x-rays, but most importantly, it is to give you, our patients the best possible care available! And now you know that you can feel safe that we are doing everything we can to keep you out of any harm’s way with our use of digital x-rays, lead lined aprons and frequent machine examinations!