Do I Really Need Dental X-Rays?
You can hear so many negative things about x-rays… There is no lack of negative news out there these days. But you don’t hear as much about the benefits and prevention that dental x-rays provide. In this blog, I will share with you what a dental x-ray is, what information it gives our team about your health and some of the consequences of not having this valuable part of your dental examination done regularly.
An x-ray is an electromagnetic wave that is produced in the machine that your dental team member uses that looks somewhat like a camera. The wave travels through the air and is detected by the little plastic sensor we put in your mouth. In between these two things is the object we are trying to image. This object may be a tooth, the jawbone, airway or dental work in your mouth that needs to be evaluated. As the wave passes through the object, some waves are blocked, and others pass through and are read by the sensor. The computer can take that information and make a black and white picture of the object, showing the density of the object. White areas on the image show very dense objects like metal, fillings or tooth structure. Dark areas on the image show less dense parts like cheeks, gums and air space.
Several types of dental x-rays are taken to give your dental team certain types of information. The condition of restorations or dental work such as crowns, fillings or orthodontics can be evaluated with x-ray images. The presence of decay, fracture, infection or abscess is often shown on an image. The following are a few of the dental images we use most often.
Bitewing x-rays are familiar to most people. They are generally a group of 2 or 4 images taken on kids and adults respectively. They show the half of the tooth closest to the biting surface and both upper and lower teeth in the same image. They detect areas of potential decay, gum disease, infection or damage to a tooth, restoration or bone. They are best taken yearly. Having these images at regular intervals allows us to detect decay early because we can see the subtle changes that are happening over time. Hopefully, these slight changes can be seen before larger obvious decay presents itself.
Periapical x-rays, also called PAs, show the whole tooth including the tips of the roots. We usually take these images regularly to evaluate the upper and lower front teeth for decay or infection. We also use these images during emergency exams to look at a tooth that may be having pain or be fractured.
Panoramic images show the whole area of the jaws from below the eyes to below the chin and ear to ear. These images are valuable for looking at wisdom teeth, impacted teeth, jaw infections or fractures and potential problems within the bone such as cysts or tumors. We generally take these images every 3-5 years. In our office we have a more advanced version of this machine called a 3D or CBCT or CT scan machine. It does all the above functions as well as allowing us to look within the bone in a unique way. Infections and other problems can be detected earlier because I can look at a small “slice” of the image and avoid overlapping structures hiding slight changes in the body. I use this image for determining the exact location on teeth, infections or other problems in the mouth. This is the image that I use to diagnose and plan dental implant placement.
The newest technology in dentistry allows the dose of radiation on dental images to be a fraction of what it was in previous years. According to CDC.gov Average Annual Dose for Natural Sources of Radiation, we get over 3.11mSv of radiation simply from breathing the air, eating and living on the Earth. In contrast, the radiation exposure from 1 bitewing x-ray is only 0.005mSv. And, this is half the dose that it was just a few years ago when we used film to take x-rays images. The newest technology that we have in our office gives you the highest quality and accuracy in diagnosing dental disease. It also makes dentistry as safe as possible for you and your family.
One of the problems with dental disease is that it is often not painful until it has become severe. As we all know, it is almost impossible to see all areas of your own mouth well. The only way to know that you have a healthy mouth is to regularly see a dentist that you trust. Dental cavities and infections can grow unchecked if we you are not getting a regular dental examination and that includes x-rays. The cavity in this photo is not visible from the top of the tooth to you and possibly not even to your visible to your dentist unless we are looking at an x-ray. As you can see, this cavity has progressed to the nerve of the tooth and now this tooth will need much more advanced treatment than if the cavity had been found early and a simple filling could have stopped it.
My primary goal as your dentist is to partner with your family to achieve and maintain dental health. It is a partnership of good home care and habits and the highest quality in-office care, experience and expertise. We never want to see a patient suffering with pain or having to have extensive dental work done because decay and infection have progressed unchecked in their mouth. Regular examinations by our dental team, including x-rays, is vital to keeping your mouth healthy and having less extensive dental care over your lifetime.
Dr. Maria Van Huffel
Please call our office today to set up an appointment with Dr Van Huffel to make sure your mouth is as healthy as possible, and you don’t have any unknown problems that may surprise you in the near future.