Dentists use x-ray imaging for a number of reasons in the dental office and most patients who have regular visits will have a set of full x-rays at least once every two years. Dentists often make x-rays a part of normal routine dental health care to check for early signs of decay, ensure proper teeth growth and alignment, and view a patient’s bite.
When a patient is experiencing pain or problems in an area of their mouth, partial x-rays are often taken as a diagnostic tool to determine what may be causing the pain and also to help determine what treatment may be the best option. Dentists may also take images after a procedure to ensure that everything has been rectified.
Many patients express concern when having any type of x-ray procedure due to the exposure to radiation that occurs. This fear is often compounded if the technician asks if there is a chance of pregnancy, covers you for the procedure, and often steps out of the room.
The truth of the matter is that the new digital dental x-ray practice has replaced older methods for many reasons, including the fact that the new digital x-rays emit a significantly lower amount of radiation than previous techniques. The procedures utilized in the office are overly cautious exercises to simply reduce the exposure as much as possible and do not reflect an immediate danger of radiation exposure. Digital x-ray technology lessens the amount of radiation exposure by 90% over the previous use of traditional film x-rays.
In radiation studies performed, dental x-rays account for the lowest amount of radiation of testing procedures examined. A standard full x-ray procedure in the dental office will include four bitewings to get a full view of all of the teeth. The total amount of radiation for all four bitewings emits approximately 0.005 mSv, which is less than the equivalent of a day’s exposure to normal, natural background radiation. The amount of exposure could compare to the amount of exposure that an individual would experience during a one- to two-hour airline flight.
With proper shielding procedures, the amount of exposure is reduced to even less. Shielding techniques often utilize lead-lined protection for the thyroid and other areas that would be more sensitive to radiation. If proper shielding techniques are used, x-rays are even recommended for patients who are pregnant but in need of emergency dental procedures that require x-rays for diagnostic or treatment purposes.
Many dental patients will put off the recommended two-year full x-rays that are part of a cleaning procedure due to fear of radiation exposure. For the limited amount of radiation to which your body will be exposed, your dentist will be able to determine tooth decay, damage and infection that can lead to tooth loss or serious health complications. Routine x-rays are an important part of maintaining good dental health, and the benefits significantly outweigh the risk.
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