If you go to the dentist regularly then you probably know a little about getting a dental x-ray. These types of x-rays allow dentists to see below the surface of your gums to identify and diagnose dental problems. But just how safe is an x-ray and are the benefits worth the amount of radiation you’re being exposed to? Read on to discover everything you need to know about dental x rays.
What Are Dental X-rays?
A dental x-ray, also known as a dental radiograph, is a 2D image of the tooth structure and bones inside the mouth. This technology allows dentists to see below the surface of enamel and gums to discover any problems that need to be addressed. There are several different types of dental x-rays that dentists commonly use to identify impacted teeth, help monitor the health and development of the jaw joint, and see any fractures, breaks, or areas of tooth decay.
Types of X-rays
The several types of x-rays provide different views of the entire mouth. The most common types are intraoral x-rays which include:
- Bitewing Xrays – The patient bites down on a plastic or cardboard tab called bitewings for this type of dental xray commonly used to check for decay between teeth.
- Occlusal View – Taken when the patient’s jaw is closed to examine how teeth line up and detect any abnormalities in the palate or floor of the mouth.
- Panoramic X-Ray – An x-ray machine rotates around the patient’s head to capture all teeth in one shot.
- Periapical XRays – A close view of two complete teeth from root to crown.
Other types of dental images include extraoral x-rays. These are used when your dentist suspects a problem with the jaw.
Why Do You Need Dental X-Rays?
There are a number of reasons why you might need an x-ray. Typically, new patients undergo this process to allow the dentist to have a clear understanding of your dental health. In addition, your dentist may request yearly x-rays just to keep an eye on things. Dental x-rays are a great tool for identifying problems with your teeth and gums, as well as spotting bone loss before these things become a bigger issue. They also allow your dentist to keep an eye on common problems associated with wisdom teeth and your overall oral health.
How Often Do I need a Dental X-Ray?
Most people get by with a yearly x-ray. However, children tend to get more x-rays than adults due to the moving and maturing of adult teeth before, during, and after they come in. Your dentist may request more frequent x-rays depending on:
- Current oral health
- Symptoms of oral disease
- History of gum disease
- History of tooth decay
- Before and after certain dental procedures
- Various dental emergencies
It’s best to speak to your dental professional if you’re an existing or new patient to understand how often your dentist wants to perform x-rays and why.
What Happens if I Don’t Get Regular Dental X-Rays?
Without this essential tool in identifying several dental problems that can’t always be seen with a teeth cleaning, you may be putting yourself at risk for more serious problems. X-rays help dentists identify issues while they’re still small and manageable. Without this option, these small problems may go undiagnosed for years, potentially creating much bigger issues that are more difficult to treat and can threaten your overall wellbeing.
While some people do choose to refuse an x-ray at their dental visit due to various reasons, doing so over long periods of time can have severe consequences.
Preparing for Dental X-rays
There are no special preparation requirements to get a dental x-ray. It’s always a good idea to brush your teeth prior to the appointment. Some dental offices choose to do x-rays prior to a cleaning while others prefer to do them after.
When it comes time for your x-ray, you’ll sit in the dental chair and be covered with a lead vest and lead apron across your chest and lap to protect your vital organs. In some cases, they may have you wear a thyroid collar as well. The x-ray machine will be positioned by the dental hygienist or other dental professional to take images of your teeth and jaws.
Some offices may have separate rooms where the dental x ray machine is used but others may use them in the same room as teeth cleanings and other dental procedures. Depending on the type of x-ray you may be asked to stand in a designated spot while a panoramic x-ray machine rotates around your head.
Risks of Dental X-Rays
While it is true that all x-rays have some degree of radiation exposure, the radiation dose from dental x-rays is so low that they’re considered to be safe for patients of all ages. And, if your dentist chooses to utilize a digital xray rather than xray film, they are even safer.
However, despite the extremely low radiation levels, pregnancy is an exception. People who are pregnant or believe they may be pregnant should avoid dental x rays while pregnant. Typically, radiation is not considered to be safe for a developing fetus. This is why you may want to postpone or skip dental x rays when pregnant.
Other than pregnancy, dental x-rays are very low risk to adults and children due to very low exposure to radiation.
How Much Radiation Am I Exposed to During a Dental X-Ray?
When considering the technical measurement of a full set of digital x-rays for dental purposes, you’re looking at about 0.005 Millisievert or mSv. This is less radiation than you’d be exposed to during a short ride on an airplane. The amount is so little that it’s less of a radiation dose than people typically experience in one day on Earth from the sun and the various technology used on a day-to-day basis.
What Happens After Dental X-Rays?
After the x-ray images are ready, which happens instantly for digital images, your dentist will review them for abnormalities. They typically cover the results during your dental examination after your teeth cleaning. However, if the dental hygienist discovers a significant problem, they may inform the dentist more promptly.
Should your dentist find evidence of tooth decay, periodontal disease, cavities, or other problems then they’ll recommend treatment. Dental treatment may include:
- Cavity Fillings
- Root Canal
They’ll likely also discuss your overall oral care and provide oral health education on how you can prevent the same issue from occurring again. In the event of an extraction, you can also discuss options for a replacement tooth including a bridge or dental implants which may or may not require a bone graft depending on the degree of bone loss discovered.
At Cross Dentistry we do our best to provide our patients with the utmost care and patience. Our dental team wants to provide you with the dental services you need at a reasonable price. If you have concerns about the cost of dental x rays or other procedures, reach out to our practice to learn more about what we can do for you.