Many patients wonder, 'Do I really need to be getting these x-rays?'. Here we will try to bring some clarity to radiation safety and the upside and downside to obtaining dental x-rays.
About radiation and x-rays
Radiation is all around us. It is essentially energy moving through space. It takes many forms including visible light, microwaves, radiowaves, and x-rays. High energy or ionizing radiation is what is used in the medical field to sterilize instruments, image the body, and to treat disease. We are also exposed to ionizing radiation in our natural environment from the sun and earth.
X-rays are used for medical imaging and use high amounts of energy to generate an image. When the x-rays pass through our bodies, an image is created on film based on how many x-rays get absorbed and how many pass through.
Are dental x-rays safe?
Dental x-rays require only a small dosage of radiation exposure - about 5 microsieverts - making the risk of any adverse effects very low. Still, dentists practice radiology under the guidelines of ALARA; As Low As Reasonably Achievable. This means that precautions, like the use of digital x-rays, are taken to ensure minimal exposure to the body. Lead aprons and collars are utilized to minimize exposure to the abdomen, chest, and thyroid. What about pregnant women? The FDA states that dental x-rays are safe for pregnant women with proper lead apron/collar protection.
The amount of radiation exposed from routine dental x-rays is equal to about 1 day of natural radiation absorbed from the environment.
What kinds of dental x-rays are there?
Dentists utilize a few types of x-rays to check different parts of the oral cavity. Bitewing x-rays are 'cavity detecting x-rays' and highlight the areas between teeth. Periapical x-rays show the nerve canal and root tip of a tooth. Panoramic x-rays image both the upper and lower jaw, as well as the temporomandibular joint and sinuses. CT Scans also image the upper and lower jaw and surrounding structures but with the added feature of 3D, giving the dentist a deeper and more thorough visualization of the oral cavity.
So why do I need dental x-rays?
Dental x-rays are an important tool in helping dentists diagnose disease that may not be visible to the naked eye. X-rays show areas between teeth as well as the root tips and supporting bone structure. Using x-rays, dentists are able to check for cavities, gum disease and bone loss, as well as for abscesses, cysts, and other jaw diseases. X-rays allow for early detections and enable dentists to identify and treat conditions before they become problematic.
More about 3D x-rays
3D x-rays are on their way to becoming a standard of care in dental diagnoses. It has enabled us to visualize and diagnose dental diseases in ways 2D x-rays cannot. A CT machine works by acquiring a series of 'sliced' images that are reconstructed to form a complete model of the mouth and skull. Using these slices, diagnosticians can easily pinpoint and evaluate areas of concern. Scans provide a more comprehensive view of the teeth, jaw, and surrounding structures, thereby allowing a higher level of accuracy to identify, analyze, and diagnose sinus and nasal cavity issues, TMJ disorders, tooth or jaw fractures, nerve pathways, and other lesions. Aside from its diagnostic benefits, CT scans also allow for better treatment planning. Implants can be planned in ideal positions with amazing accuracy to ensure no internal structures are jeopardized. Complex reconstructive cases can be visualized more clearly and allow for precise surgical planning.
In conclusion, the benefits dental x-rays provide are numerous. While obtaining x-rays comes at the minimal cost of radation exposure, the risk of undetected disease is far greater.
At our office, we use the latest digital technology to provide quality dental care and minimize your risk of radiation exposure. If you haven't had a dental exam recently, call us today and schedule a check up!