Do I Really Need Dental X-Rays?

It is sometimes questioned if x-rays are needed of if they are a money making scheme for dentists. This idea is false and it is great to see patients getting educated about the importance of x-rays. A large part of the educational requirements for a dental hygiene is clinical work.

When a dental x-ray is taken, it captures a picture of the teeth, bones and soft tissues of the mouth and jaw. The dentist and dental hygienists are trained to read these pictures and detect abnormalities. Some examples of things that are carefully examined on x-rays are cavities, wisdom teeth, cysts, bone levels and impacted teeth, to name a few.

One may think that a cavity should be seen clinically and wonder why an x-ray is necessary, but not all cavities can be seen clinically. An interproximal cavity, or a cavity between two touching teeth is an example of a cavity that is difficult to detect without a x-ray. Impacted teeth, especially wisdom teeth are important to monitor because they can sometimes be rotated in a way that makes them impossible to come through the gum.

Another issue with wisdom teeth is that they can become infected and have an abscess tip of the root. Wisdom teeth sometimes do not develop or some people have an extra wisdom tooth, which also is detected by an x-ray. Bone levels can and most likely will change throughout a person’s lifetime and it is important to monitor these changes by updated x-rays. Clinicians working without x-rays are essentially working with a blindfold because they can’t see the whole picture and therefore can’t give the best care possible.

What About the Radiation?

The word radiation usually raises a negative connotation for most people. Radiation is associated with bombs, cancer, and other bad things and while radiation is never a good thing, it is not necessarily something to be concerned about in dentistry.

Advances in dentistry occur constantly and x-ray imaging uses much less radiation currently than was used in the past. To put it in perspective, many typical sources expose people to radiation every day such as smoke detectors, living in a brick house versus a wooden house, or flying on an airplane.

A typical dental x-ray exposes a person to 2-3 mrem of radiation (mrem is a term of measurement). When comparing this to other sources of radiation, a smoke detector exposes a person to one mrem per year, a brick house exposes a person to 10 mrem per year (due to the radioactive materials in the masonry) and five mrem to fly on a plane on a typical cross-country flight.

Most likely, a person would not refuse to fly on an airplane, live without a smoke detector, or move from a brick house to a wooden house due to the fear of the small amounts of radiation received from these activities. Therefore, since the dentist and hygienist gain important information from the x-rays, it is not in a person’s best interest to refuse dental x-rays because of this very small amount of radiation. Dental professionals are here to help you, not hurt you or put your health at risk.

Next time x-rays are recommended for you, be confident that it is for your benefit. We can review your x-rays with you and show you any defects we find. We love patient involvement here at Rochester Dental Health. Dr. Smith takes pride in answering all patient questions and making sure you are confident in your dental healthcare.

Looking for a Dentist in Rochester MN? Contact Dr. Smith and get started with a Free Initial Consultation.

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