Digital x-rays are an excellent diagnostic tool dentists use to detect cavities, diseases, and abnormalities not visible during a visual oral exam. X-rays are taken to evaluate the presence of cavities, the level of the bone supporting the dentition, and to evaluate existing anatomy. It is also taken to check:
- any presence of infection
- abnormal hard and soft tissues
- fractured roots and jaw bones
- to help evaluate and sufficiently diagnose oral and maxillofacial diseases and abnormalities
- evaluate possible bone loss and current nerve location
- evaluate for presence of periodontal disease that may require additional deep cleanings
- location of dental implant placement
The amount of radiation needed to develop an image is loosely based on a combination of film speed and density of the structure being evaluated.
The ADA has a great article on radiation exposure.
The amount of radiation needed to produce an image within the dental realm is in reality extremely low. Dentists adhere to the As Low As Reasonably Achievable (ALARA), which limits the body’s exposure to radiation to the lowest minimal amount required. In general, dental exams and x-rays are extremely safe, requiring only a very low level of radiation.
Compared to the amount of radiation needed for a full mouth series of x-rays, one would actually get exposed to more radiation by flying in an airplane, walking outside, or going to the beach!
Rest assured, the amount of radiation needed in the dental office is set to the lowest possible setting needed. (ALARA). Additional precautions are also taken to ensure patient safety. Leaded aprons decreases abdominal and thoracic exposure. Leaded thyroid collars minimizes radiation exposure to the thyroid. The ADA and AMA recommends that thyroid collars to be used on pregnant women and children.
Your dental office personnel undergo rigorous training to ensure patient and staff safety, and will be happy to answer any questions or concerns you may have.
What if I am Pregnant?
Pregnancy. If you are pregnant, be sure to inform your dentist. In some cases x-rays are still necessary to ensure accurate diagnose and recommend a proper treatment plan. Only the minimal amount of x-rays will be taken. Your dentist will use a leaded apron and leaded thyroid collar to minimize radiation exposure to you and your fetus. If you are trying to become pregnant or are breastfeeding, x-rays are safe to use when indicated.
Traditional x-rays are taken via a very thin film placed besides the tooth structure in question. The films then needs to be developed with a combination of chemicals in order for the image to appear. It usually takes 5-7 minutes for the image to show up properly.
Benefits of Digital X-rays
With digital x-rays, an advanced computer sensor in a thin plastic covering is used in lieu of the x-ray film. The image is instantaneously captured by the sensor and read by the computer. The image literally shows up on the monitor as the x-ray is taken. The benefits of digital x-rays are many:
- Up to 90% less radiation is needed than film based b/c of the sensor’s increased sensitivity
- No developing compounds and chemicals needed to develop the film. Green is the way to go in the 21st century!
- No wait time, no more waiting for the dental staff to develop the picture. Digital images appear instantly.
- Digital x-rays are incorporated into dental practice management software, hence decreases dental insurance turn around time
- Digital x-rays can be saved in a jpg format, and can be securely sent to dental specialists as needed for review