The usefulness of an x-ray

September 21st, 2015

When you visit your dentist they may, every now and then, suggest taking an x-ray of your mouth. Today’s article aims to give information and insight into the purpose of dental x-rays, and hopefully allay any concerns you might have.

The main question we hear asked about x-rays is ‘why do we need them?’. X-rays are extremely useful to the dental team in aiding them to see any problems you may have at an early stage. If you are starting to develop tooth decay, it may be the case that there are not yet any physical signs that your dentist can detect. An x-ray gives your dentist the ability to see under the enamel, to look at the root of your tooth and to look for any bone loss around your tooth. In short, your dentist will be able to find any developing problems with your teeth far earlier than they might by just looking in your mouth as part of their routine inspection. Finding problems earlier normally means easier and more straightforward treatment saving you both time and money. X-rays are also really useful for children as they enable the dentist to look at how the adult teeth are developing, and when they are likely to appear.

In terms of frequency, generally speaking, x-rays should take place approximately every 6 to 24 months. However this will vary depending on the individual and factors such as age and dental history. If you are a new patient at a dental surgery it is likely that your new dentist will take x-rays. This enables them to get a good idea about the overall condition of your mouth and any problems they need to look out for.

There are several different types of x-ray that are used. One of the main differences is in the size, or amount of the mouth that is x-rayed. For example it may be that just one or two teeth are looked at in a small x-ray, or alternatively your whole mouth might be looked at in a large x-ray (a panoramic x-ray). There are many options in between. There are also electronic ‘imaging’ systems that we here at Ock Street use, which involve using electronic probes instead of x-ray films. These send an image directly to a screen whilst the procedure is being carried out. This method allows for permanent storage whereas wet film radiographs are now seen as very old fashioned and prone to deterioration within a few years after they were taken

Patients sometimes also ask about the safety of x-rays. Due to advances in techniques, and the modern equipment that is available, risks are minimal. At Ock Street we only use digital imaging, which allows a slightly lower radiation dose than traditional methods. The actual amount of radiation from a dental x-ray is very small. In fact, we are exposed to more radiation from our general environment (e.g. minerals in the soil), than we are from a dental x-ray. Your dentist will use x-rays sparingly, which will also reduce your exposure. It is important to let your dentist know if you are pregnant as this may influence their decision to carry out an x-ray.  Prescribing x-rays is risk based, so the better you keep your teeth the fewer x-rays you are likely to have.

X-rays are an extremely useful tool for dentists, especially in helping them to pre-empt emerging problems and plan treatment before the problem gets too advanced. Your dentist will be happy to discuss with you how they use x-rays at your next appointment if you have further questions.

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