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Useful Allies: Dental X-Ray

September 21, 2014


Full disclosure: even with those fancy handle-mirror thingies that us dentists have there are areas in the mouth we can’t see with the naked eye. In fact, there’s not much of the human body that we can see, which is why X-Rays come in pretty handy. They're incredibly useful ways of identifying issues in all areas of the body. Why? Because they can see inside you.

X-Rays are medical imaging processes generating highly powered electromagnetic waves that penetrate things like bone and muscle. X-Ray machines emit these waves in focused streams and, like cameras, record what they see. The electromagnetic waves that comprise X-Rays are actually classed as radiation, which is a term - and a thing - not overly revered by much of the population.

As you may know, any type of radiation can negatively affect our bodies. Light and energy from the sun are perhaps the most prevalent examples of radiation to which we’re constantly exposed. As science better understands X-Rays and their impact on patient health new ways to mitigate their impacts continue to be made available.

Exposing Patients to Dental X-Rays

When I decide to expose a patient to X-Rays I do so after analysing the benefits and potential risks. The benefits are accurate patient monitoring and symptom diagnosis, the risk is exposure to low-dose radiation. Complications arising from radiation exposure depend on a patient’s age, the frequency of exposure, and the “dosage” received at each exposure. Without getting too complicated, different modes of radiation offer varying amounts, or doses, of radiation.

The frequency with which I take dental X-Rays with patients varies. For example, patients at high risk of cavities may need X-Rays every six months. Those at low risk require X-Rays less regularly, perhaps every 18-24 months.

During a new patient’s first appointment I’ll take a full-mouth series of X-Rays for their file. Most patients won’t need this series repeated for three to five years. This baseline exposure method means that we only expose patients to additional X-Rays inside this time frame if the benefits outweigh the potential risks.

Children and X-Rays

Children usually don’t need X-Rays as long as I can see spaces between their teeth and still check the tooth surfaces visually. When cavities are visible or when there’s a lack of space between teeth I will recommend an X-Ray.

Flim Versus Digital X-Rays

Many dentists have made the switch from traditional film to digital X-Rays, which reduce radiation exposure by up to 70 percent. This is good news for patients. As practitioners we benefit by reducing the amount of toxic materials used in developing film. All the data is collected and stored digitally, which, along with saving space, makes it a much greener option.

I'd definitely put this article in the “overview” category. If you have other questions about X-Rays, or would like to me explore this article's content in greater depth, send me an email or leave a comment below.


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