The Truth About Dental X-Rays

As a holistic dentist in Portland, I work closely with patients who care about their dental health and overall whole body health. I appreciate it when my patients do their research and ask questions about the care they receive. When I address patients’ questions, it helps us to get on the same page about their health goals and allows us to form a partnership so we can work together to achieve optimal health.

In today’s post, I’m going to address a few of the most common questions I am asked about dental x-rays, which are both a powerful diagnostic tool and a subject that many people find to be a bit controversial.  There’s a lot of misinformation online these days and I want to share the facts so that you can make your own decisions about what’s best for your health.

“Should I Worry About Radiation?”

Dental x-ray

This is by far the most common question that patients have about dental x-rays. Simply put, with modern x-ray technology, the amount of radiation received is minimal. How minimal?

Radiation received by the human body is measured in units called “Sieverts”. During a serious nuclear disaster (like the Fukushima power plants) first responders or power plant employees may receive nearly 1 Sievert of radiation– a very high and dangerous amount to receive all at once.

Just by living on planet Earth, each one of us absorbs some radiation from outer space, known as celestial radiation. Over the course of a year, no matter what we do, each of us will absorb about .001 (one-one-thousandth) Sieverts (a.k.a. – 1 milli-Sievert)– practically none at all.  And the latest, 3D dental x-rays we offer at Blodgett Dental Care? They contain less than 1/12 that amount!

The bottom line is that the radiation from dental x-rays comes in such small amounts that there is little to no health risk from have them performed at appropriate intervals.

Fun Fact: Even bananas emit a tiny amount of radiation! About 1 microSievert– meaning that you’d have to eat nearly a million bananas to absorb a dangerous amount of radiation!

“When You Take X-Rays, What Are You Looking For?”

Why have dental x-rays taken?

Many patients believe that x-rays just look for cavities. While x-rays can show decay between teeth, there are many other things I look at when reviewing a patient’s x-rays. X-rays can show me the positioning of teeth that are still below the gumline (in the case of wisdom teeth or un-erupted “adult” teeth).

X-rays are also a great way to identify cysts and other growths in and around the jaw. In some cases, dental x-rays can save lives when they spot cancerous tumors that other physical exams might miss!

“What Are ‘3D Dental X-Rays’?”

In years past (and still today in the majority of dental practices) most dentists relied on 2D radiographic x-rays– like the ones you get at the hospital if you were to break your arm. Unfortunately, these x-rays have significant drawbacks. They often produce a “fuzzy” image that doesn’t show all the details needed to spot small areas of decay. And they can take a few attempts to get the best possible image.

Luckily, today there’s a better option!  Since 2008, Blodgett Dental Care has offered the latest in dental x-ray technology: 3D Cone Beam CT Scans. Instead of using radiographic film to produce 2D images, the cone beam creates a 3D image of your teeth and the surrounding bone structure. These images show an incredible amount information pertinent to your health and provide the best look inside your mouth!

And best of all, they take just seconds and we can review the results together right away!

“How Often Should I Get X-Rays?”

There’s no “one size fits all” answer to this question. When it comes to my patients, I’ll consider many factors such as whether a patient has:

  • A history of periodontal disease or tooth decay
  • All of their “adult” teeth and whether these teeth have settled into their permanent locations
  • Enough room in his or her mouth for their wisdom teeth
  • A need for dentures, implants, or other restorative solutions

Depending on the answers to these questions, a new set of x-rays might be useful when deciding on a treatment plan. Some patients may benefit from a set every year while others will need x-rays less frequently.

One guideline that my team and I follow it to always start with a complete set of information with our New Patients.  This includes complete photographs, health history, discussion of goals AND a complete set of X-rays.  There is nothing worse when establishing a relationship with a new patient than to be limited by not having enough information, including X-rays.  At Blodgett Dental Care, in order to enjoy the benefits or all that we have to offer, a thoughtful and comprehensive approach must be followed.

Schedule Your Appointment

Do you want to know more about dental x-rays? Schedule your first appointment at Blodgett Dental Care. Together, we’ll discuss your health and the treatment and care options available to you– including x-rays.

Photo Credits:

Photo credit: jasonwoodhead23 via Visualhunt.com / CC BY

Photo via Visualhunt