Dental x-rays are used to help diagnose diseases or problems in the anatomy of the oral cavity, head, and neck regions. Cavities in teeth, bone loss around the teeth and in the jaws, tumours, cysts, tooth development, and anomalies are most commonly looked for in dental x-ray imaging.
Although some patients are weary of x-rays because of the radiation, the benefit of having them taken far exceeds the risk of damage caused to the cells. An early diagnosis can help to reduce the financial burden of a more complex problem resulting from a late diagnosis, it can eliminate the pain associated with a more chronic disease, and it can even help to save a life.
Technology in the dental field is advancing rapidly, and with that comes great news for patients who are hesitant to have dental x-rays taken. Now that most offices are transitioning to digital x-rays, this means that the amount of radiation needed are reduced. Traditional film x-rays need more radiation exposure to produce an image compared to the new digital sensor x-rays. On average, having traditional film x-rays taken was same equivalency as being in the environment for three days (because of the naturally occurring background radiation that is always present). With digital sensor x-rays, the exposure has been reduced down to roughly one day in the environment.
There are two important factors that are used to guide radiation exposure: the amount of radiation exposure, and the frequency of radiation exposure. If a patient were to have dental x-rays taken every day, that would not give the slightly damaged cells enough time to heal themselves before the next exposure. Since bitewing x-rays are typically taken once per year, this is sufficient time for the cells to repair themselves. One year is long enough to have problems occur or worsen in the mouth, though, so it’s important to have current diagnostic imaging to help your dental professional give you the earliest diagnosis possible.
A dental professional can only see approximately 60% of a tooth without x-rays. If the patient were to choose to decline x-rays, the dental professional is obligated to inform the patient that if there was a problem that was undetected because there was no x-rays taken, they shall not be held responsible.