D ental radiographs (or x-rays) are an important part of your dental care: Along with a physical oral examination, they provide us with a more complete view of what’s happening in your mouth, jaws and inside your teeth.
Are Dental x-rays necessary?
A dental x-ray gives us a picture of your hard tissues (teeth and bones) and the soft tissues that surround your teeth and jawbones. X-rays allow for early detection of an infection, decay, disease or injury and thereby can limit or prevent further damage to your teeth, jaws and other areas of the mouth.
For example, dental radiographs may help your dentist see:
- Caries (tooth decay) that develops between the teeth or under restorations (fillings).
- Diseases in the bone, such as infections, cysts and tumours.
- Periodontal (gum) disease.
- Infections that develop under your gums.
- Dental radiographs can alert your dentist to changes in your hard and soft tissues.
- In children, radiographs allow the dentist to see how their teeth and jawbones are developing.
- Evaluate any injuries to your face, mouth and teeth after an accident which caused trauma to your mouth, e.g. fractures to teeth and jaws.
- Use of the fastest image receptor (that is, the fastest film speed or digital speed); reduction in the size of the x-ray beam to the size of the image receptor whenever possible;
- Use of proper exposure and processing techniques;
- Use of leaded aprons that cover the thyroid.
- If you are seeing a new dentist, be sure to provide him or her with copies of your existing radiographs to avoid duplicating them. This also will help limit your exposure to radiation. Your dentist will decide when radiographs are needed on the basis of your oral examination findings, any symptoms you report, a review of your health history, your risk of experiencing oral disease, your age, or any combination of the preceding.
- Today we use modern digital x-ray technology in our practice which uses a special sensor to capture an image which is scanned instantly onto a computer screen, and provides multiple advantages over traditional x-ray film. Most importantly, digital technology reduces the radiation exposure to the patient by 50-80%. Large and even colour-enhanced images let you see what your dentist sees. This makes it easier for you to understand why and how your dentist will be treating your teeth. Your dental check-ups will take less time and help the environment because digital x-rays do not use chemicals to develop.
Are dental x-rays safe?
Yes , they are very safe. Some people wonder if dental radiographs are safe because they expose the patient to radiation. Several factors and practices work together to make dental radiography safe and limit the amount of exposure to radiation. The amount of radiation used to obtain dental radiographs is very small. For example, bitewing radiographs—two to four images of the back teeth—expose a patient to about 0.005 millisieverts (mSv) of radiation (a millisievert is a unit of measure). By comparison, because radiation is part of our environment, people are on average, are exposed to 3.2 mSv every year from background sources of cosmic radiation; That is 640 times what the four x-rays are equal to!
We also follow the ALARA principle, which stands for “As Low As Reasonably Achievable,” when taking x-rays. This radiation safety principle limits your exposure by incorporating the following techniques:
Because of the low radiation dose associated with dental radiographs, people who have received radiation treatment for head and neck cancer can undergo dental radiography safely. In fact, head and neck radiation treatment causes dry mouth syndrome which can increase the risk of developing tooth decay, making the radiographs all the more important for these patients.
If you are pregnant, tell your dentist. During your pregnancy, you may need to have radiographs taken as part of your treatment plan for a dental disease that requires immediate attention e.g. a tooth abscess or deep decay. We will use a leaded apron which will completely protect you and your foetus from radiation exposure. To learn more about the benefits and safety of dental radiographs, talk with your dentist.