Understanding The Benefits Of Dental X-Rays

June 4, 2012

The images acquired from receiving dental x-rays, referred to as radiographs, are a critical part of your dental assessment. Your dentist will view your radiographs initially to evaluate your overall dental health and establish a baseline record; and then will view updated radiographs at routine intervals to identify any changes that may occur over time. Although a dentist has invaluable clinical expertise, he or she is limited by their own ability to see and feel with dental instruments around your teeth and gums.  There are many cues a dentist can interpret from radiographs that will ensure an early diagnosis of pathology, which will provide you with timely intervention and treatment options. Specific problems we look for are tooth decay, abscesses or signs of infection in the bone surrounding the teeth, signs of periodontal disease which can include bone loss around the teeth and calculus build up on the root surfaces under the gum line, and in some cases we can see cysts and tumors in the bone adjacent to the teeth. Many of these problems do not cause symptoms until they are well established and in advanced stages.  The earlier your dentist detects a problem, the more treatment options he or she may be able to present to you.

There is a standard guideline issued by the American Dental Association that helps us determine what type of radiographs to evaluate and how often to update them. You may visit their website at http://www.ada.org to read an in-depth version of their guideline, but in general terms, all patients should have a full mouth series of intra-oral x-rays taken upon initial examination, and then again every 3-5 years thereafter.  In between the full mouth series, patients should have some individual intra-oral x-rays taken on an annual basis, referred to as bitewing x-rays and periapicals.  The bitewings and periapicals are a part of your full mouth series, but we take them each year to assess the areas of dentition most likely to change between each check up. In addition to the intra-oral x-rays, we may take a panoramic, or extra-oral x-ray to view larger structures outside the dentition. In some cases the panoramic radiograph can substitute for the full mouth series in cases where intra-oral x-rays are not attainable. The dental team, under instruction from your dentist, and in conjunction with the guidelines set forth by the ADA will take into consideration your unique set of dental needs and concerns when determining what type of radiographs to acquire.

Of special note is the recent popular media attention to possible hazards of receiving dental x-rays. Some studies on the correlation between certain types of cancer and dental x-rays have been talked about on various news programs that you may have heard. These studies were not conducted in a controlled scientific environment and contain many flaws.  Although it is true that dental x-rays are a form of radiation, we cannot make the assumption that they alone are the cause of certain cancers. Radiation is something we are all exposed to from both natural and man-made sources throughout our lifetime. In large doses radiation is known to be harmful; in smaller doses there is little known harm.  For more information on radiation you may visit http://www.radiationanswers.org.  This website provides some very good information on the science of radiation and its effects on your health.  Please remember how important radiographs are in identifying potential problems, and know that we will never frivolously take x-rays that we do not feel will improve the ability of the dentist to evaluate your dental health. We always follow what is known as the ALARA guideline which stands for As Low As Reasonably Allowable when exposing you to radiation for the purposes of acquiring radiographs. The benefit of a thorough examination with the appropriate radiographs shall outweigh any potential risk of receiving dental x-rays.

4 Responses to “Understanding The Benefits Of Dental X-Rays”

  1. Is there a difference in terms of radiation dose between a full mouth series and receiving 4 bite wings and 2 periapical views

    • Julie Montheard, RDH said

      Dear Kelley, thank you for your question and I’m going to give you at least a partial answer for now while I research some specifics on exactly how radiation dose is quantified. I can tell you for now that yes, you are receiving more radiation with each additonal dental xray that is being taken. A full mouth series consists of 18 images (or 18 times receiving and xray), where as the annual bitewings and periapicals consists of a total of six xrays. Using an advanded direct digital xray software program that we do at Loving Family Dental, we do not need to flucuate the exposure time of radiation for each image we are looking for either posterior or anterior. In years past, it used to be that the exposure time for an xray was adjusted anywere from .12 of a second to .32 of a second depending on what area of the mouth we were looking at. With our advanced software and new machines we have been using a setting of .25 of a second exposure time for all xrays because we can use our software program to lighten or darken images, adjust contrast,and sharpness as needed to get a higher quality image.
      I hope that at least partially answers your question. I know that there is a nationally recognized unit of measurment to quantify a person’s total dose radiation based not only of your freqency of xrays, but also other sources of radiation you may be exposed to. I will look into that shortly and let your know what I come up with as soon as possible. Thank you for your interest in the subject!
      Julie Montheard, RDH

      • Thank you for the information. I truly appreciate your knowledge.
        Would you say then a bite wing is approximately half the radiation dose in a bite wing with traditional radiography but with your advanced software the dose would be the same?

      • I’m sorry I meant to ask if a bite wing would be about half the dose of a PA x-ray with traditional radiography.

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