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What You Need to Know About Dental X-Rays

What You Need to Know About Dental X-Rays

March 18, 2021

Why Do Dentists Need All Those X-Rays?

Dentists are committed to delivering the highest quality care to each patient while applying the latest advances in science and technology to improve the oral health entire of the U.S. population. Guidelines are established to serve as an adjunct to the dentist’s professional judgement of how to best use diagnostic imaging for each patient.

Radiographs can help the dental practitioner accurately evaluate and diagnose many oral diseases and conditions. The dentist, however, must weigh the benefits of taking dental radiographs against the risk of exposing a patient to x-rays, the effects of which accumulate from multiple sources over time. The dentist, knowing the patient’s health history and vulnerability to oral disease, is in the best position to make this judgement in the best interest of each patient.

In general, radiographs, or x-rays, are needed to “see” what is going on under the gums and bones of a patient – they can reveal a various number of findings. Different types of radiographs help the dentist make the appropriate diagnosis.

  • Panoramic Radiographs – “Pans” are radiographic images that give the dentist a panoramic view of the patient’s upper jaw, lower jaw, and part of the upper neck. By giving the dentist a “big picture” of what is going on in that region of the patient’s anatomy, panoramic radiographs are crucially important. Bony tumors, bony lesions, impacted teeth, alveolar bone anatomy, and neural canals are examples of what a dentist needs to see when looking at a panoramic radiograph. It is recommended that a panoramic radiograph be taken every three to five years and for new patient examinations.
  • Periapical Radiographs – This type of x-ray is taken when the dentist wants a close up picture of a tooth. This type of x-ray allows the dentist to focus on one or two particular teeth, providing detailed view of things like cavities. A tooth’s periodontal ligament can also be seen in greater detail, which helps in diagnosing dental abscess. Periodontal disease can be diagnosed more accurately by looking at a patient’s bony anatomy. Dental root canals can be seen more clearly which helps when performing a root canal procedure. PAs are usually taken as needed to address a specific problem.
  • Bite Wings – The main reason for taking a bite wing radiograph is to see if there is a cavity between two adjacent teeth. Decay between teeth cannot always be seen intraorally during a regular examination. Therefore, radiographs of this type help the dentist to see a problem that is normally covered up. Bite wing radiographs are usually taken once per year.

Are Dental X-Rays Dangerous?

Dental x-rays are one of the lowest radiation dose studies performed. A routine exam, which includes 4 bitewings, is about 0.005 mSv – less than one day of natural background radiation. It is also about the same amount of radiation exposure from a short airplane flight (~1-2 hrs). Proper shielding is also common, which makes the potential risk even lower.

If I Am Pregnant What Is the Risk to My Fetus?

If you are pregnant and have a dental issue the doctor must use his or her best judgment. Factors include:

  1. Your dental issue
  2. Your health
  3. How far along you are in your pregnancy

After considering these factors, they must decide as to whether or not a radiograph is needed. Much like the risk estimates in adults, fetal risk estimates are not proven with any certainty but are taken very seriously. We know that children are more sensitive than adults, so we assume the fetus is at an even higher risk. If these is any chance you may be pregnant, you must inform your doctor and staff that is performing your study.

If I Have Cancer, Can Radiation from Dental Imaging Make It Worse?

This is the most common reason patients decline taking dental x-rays. The answer is: NO, radiation from dental imaging cannot make cancer worse. Low dose radiation from medical imaging does not affect known cancer. In fact, high dose radiation is used to treat cancer. It takes decades for exposure from low dose radiation to manifest. However, the information gained from imaging patients with cancer most likely outweighs the small risk of cancer induction many years in the future.

Rest assured that dental x-rays are vital tools in allowing your dentist to maintain your dental health. It can show if you are healthy or in need of treatment. Also, remember to always ask your dental professional if you have any questions regarding your treatment or examination.

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