Do I Really Need Dental X-rays, and Are They Too Much Radiation?
We in the dental world get alot of questions concerning x-rays and their importance. Some people that come in for their dental appointments question the need for the x-rays involved. Some would just like to save money by opting out, while others are nervous/concerned about how this could affect their overall health. We will review the need for x-rays today and hopefully put any fears to rest.
Your dentist uses the x-rays they take to collect data for the health of your teeth. These x-rays show any changes in the bone levels around each tooth, as well as detecting cavities that may not be present to the naked eye. Changes in bone level may mean you have gum disease and this is much more easily taken care of than if you wait until things progess too far. The same is true for cavities--they are much easier to repair when small rather than them causing much bigger issues when they are left alone.
There are different types of x-rays that are used for different diagnoses. The large x-ray, or panographic, is used when the dentist needs to see all of the teeth and surrounding areas. It shows the nasal passages, sinuses, jaws (for possible TMJ issues), and even the wisdom teeth which alot of times are too hard to reach with the smaller x-rays. The PAN (short for panographic) also shows any tumors, cysts, or other growths that may be out of place.
Bitewing x-rays are the ones usually taken in the patient chair and show mostly the crowns of the teeth, or the part you chew with. With these you can see any cavities forming, the status of the gum tissue, and also interproximally (in between each tooth). Another important x-ray that may be taken is a PA, or perapical. It is one taken of 1-2 teeth to see the entire tooth, from the chewing surface all the way down to the tip of the root. This will show any abscesses or other growths in the area. If you hae a toothache, this one will most likely be taken to determine the cause.
As far as your safety and health, x-rays have far less radiation than many common things in our world today. Most people do not realize this. For instance, the dosage in a whole body CT scan is 5 times more radon than a bitewing x-ray. A mammogram or chest x-ray is also a higher dosage. Even a flight from Los Angles to New York is more than a digital bitewing x-ray dose.
These x-rays do far more for our health than the radon exposure does harm. We as dental professionals need to see what is going on below the gum surface to diagnosis and treat issues. Guesswork doesn't work in dentistry so please have your x-rays taken at your next dental visit!