Radiograph (X-Ray) Information

Dental radiographs or X-rays are an important part of a complete dental examination. They are among the most valuable tools a Dentist has for keeping your mouth and teeth healthy. They do not however replace the need of a visual and tactile examination. The combination of x-rays, a visual exam and patient descriptions of symptoms allows the Dentist to diagnose dental disease and determine the treatment required for our patients. If patients decline to have x-rays taken then the exam is incomplete and problems can arise which could have been prevented earlier.

Dental x-rays give dentist a tremendous amount of information regarding their patient’s teeth. X-rays show areas of decay that may not be able to be seen with just a visual examination, such as tiny pits of decay that occur between teeth. They also help diagnose decay that is developing underneath a filling or a crown, alert the dentist about bone loss associated with periodontal (gum disease), and reveal problems in the root canal, such as infection. They also help your Dentist plan and prepare for crowns, bridges and dental implants and can also reveal abnormalities such as cysts, cancer, and metabolic diseases. Radiographs often are the first place these diseases are discovered.

For children, radiographs are not only used to detect cavities between teeth but also to monitor tooth growth and development. They can show whether extra (supernumerary) teeth are present or whether any teeth are impacted. They also help to determine if there is sufficient space in the mouth to fit all the new teeth.

One main concern people have regarding dental x-rays is exposure to radiation. It is important to note that we are exposed to radiation every day from various sources, such as frequent airplane travel and high altitudes, minerals in the soil and appliances in our homes like smoke detectors and television screens. The average radiation in the U.S. from natural sources per year is 3.6 mSv*, a set of four annual dental bite-wing x-rays using regular film is 0.038 mSv.

Our office uses digital x-ray sensors rather than traditional film which reduces your radiation exposure by another 80 to 90 percent to around 0.0038 mSv for this annual series. A full mouth series of x-rays (18 images taken every 5 years) would deliver approximately 0.017 mSv to the patient.

The annual effective dose of radiation from cosmic (naturally occurring) radiation which occurs from traveling in an airplane is more at 0.27 mSv.

As you can see the exposure to radiation from dental x-rays is a very small fraction (about 6%) of what we are exposed to from natural sources. To reduce exposure further, we use lead shielded aprons to cover the patient and we also use collimation to limit the area directly exposed to only the target area by reducing x-rays that stray from that path. Dental assistants leave the room during an x-ray because they might take hundreds of x-rays every week.

The following groups should have dental x-rays often:

• Children as they are more likely to develop caries.

• Adults with extensive existing restorative work to check for decay beneath existing fillings, crowns and bridges.

• Anyone with poor oral hygiene or with a diet high in sugars and carbohydrates.

• People with periodontal disease (or a history of periodontal disease) to monitor progression and treatment  or possible relapse of periodontal disease.

• People who suffer from dry mouth. Dry mouth increases the risk of tooth decay.

• Smokers and smokeless tobacco users since tobacco use increases the risk of periodontal (gum) disease, decay, and oral cancers.

There is valuable information from dental radiographs to help your Dental team keep your teeth healthy so it is not in your best interest to refuse dental radiographs. One of the key benefits of taking dental radiographs is to catch small problems early before they become major and require more extensive and costly treatment. The benefits far outweigh the risks.

*A millisievert (mSv) is a unit of measure that allows for some comparison between radiation sources that expose the entire body (such as natural background radiation) and those that only expose a portion of the body (such as radiographs).