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Are Dental X-Rays Safe?

August 31, 2021

It might sound strange since you are often asked to open as wide as you possibly can, but dentists are still limited by what they can see using only their eyes (even with magnification). This is where dental x-rays come in. Dental x-rays, or radiographs, are a diagnostic tool used to visualize the teeth (including their roots) and the surrounding bone to detect damage or disease that would be otherwise undetectable. While no one would argue against their usefulness, there are still those who consider dental x-rays “unsafe”. Today, we hope to relieve any fears you may have about taking dental x-rays.

Why are dental x-rays necessary?

Though x-rays are typically recommended every year, the frequency may be affected by factors such as:

  • The age of the patient: children may require x-rays more frequently than adults because they are still developing their teeth and jaws and they are also more prone to cavities. 
  • The current state of oral health: If a patient has a high risk of developing cavities, as evidenced by several existing cavities, poor oral hygiene, and a diet that is filled with sugary foods and drinks, radiographs of their posterior teeth may be required every 6 months.
  • A history of gum disease: this may be needed to track a patient’s progress with treatment.
  • Any symptoms of oral disease

Also, if you are a new patient, you will need to take baseline dental x-rays so that your oral health can be assessed since in most cases you will not have x-rays from your previous dentist.

Without taking dental x-rays, your dentist may not be able to diagnose tooth decay, damage to the supporting bone, or detect any developing oral pathology. Using tooth decay as an example, a small cavity not yet detectable clinically can be identified as a radiolucent area on an x-ray. Early detection means that a simple filling can be done. A cavity that is left until it becomes clinically obvious (an actual hole in the tooth) may at that point have spread to involve the pulp of the tooth, meaning pain and increased treatment costs as it will probably need a root canal. 

What can dental x-rays show?

Dental x-rays can be used to show the following:

  1. Tooth decay between contacting posterior teeth
  2. Decay that is under an existing filling
  3. Bone loss because of Periodontal Disease
  4. Cysts and other tumors of the jaw
  5. Impacted teeth
  6. Developmental abnormalities in children
  7. Abscesses 
  8. The position of teeth, anatomical structures (such as the maxillary sinus or the inferior dental nerve), or bone levels to plan treatment such as extractions, implants, braces, and dentures.

What are the different types of x-rays?

Though many types of dental x-rays exist, the most common ones are the bitewing, the periapical, and panoramic x-rays.

Bitewing x-rays are used to detect decay between premolars and molars. Periapical x-rays are useful when focusing on one or two teeth and trying to visualize their roots. A panoramic x-ray shows all teeth in the oral cavity in one complete image and is the best x-ray for visualizing cysts and tumors of the jaw.

How safe are dental x-rays?

X-rays are a type of ionizing radiation, and while ionizing radiation has been shown to cause cancer (the main reason people claim they are “unsafe”) there is a lot to consider. The truth is that we are always exposed to ionizing radiation. Our bodies are exposed to about 3.1 millisieverts (mSv) of natural radiation alone every year. A typical bitewing or periapical x-ray is 0.005 mSv, accounting for less than 1.6% of your daily background exposure to radiation. This is just about the amount of radiation you get from sunlight each day. So, sunlight is a constant source of exposure, dental x-rays are not. 

The level of radiation exposure that a patient experiences is so low that it is considered safe for both children and adults. Additionally, using dental x-ray tools and techniques, the exposure of patients to radiation is limited even further so that it is As Low As Reasonably Achievable (the ALARA principle). For example, the use of the lead apron and the leaded thyroid collar is used to safely cover the chest, abdomen, pelvic regions, and the thyroid. As dental offices move to become more modern, the use of digital x-rays versus traditional film x-rays also means that the risk of radiation exposure is even lower.

The American Dental Association has even stated that x-rays are considered safe for pregnant patients at any stage during the pregnancy when the lead apron and thyroid collar are used.

Though patients may be hesitant about getting dental x-rays done, the benefits of x-rays in the early detection of oral health problems far outweigh any concerns that a patient may have. The health of the mouth impacts the health of the overall body, and you should do all that you can for you and your family to be in optimal health. 

Dr. Kurtz and the team at Havasu Dentistry are waiting to take care of all your oral health needs and address all your safety concerns. If you are looking for a dentist in Havasu or just looking for high-quality dentistry for your entire family provided by a warm, welcoming, and highly professional team, then Havasu Dentistry is the place for you!