Even the name, x-ray is a little intimidating. Why do you need x-rays? How many are too many? How often should you have them? Are they dangerous? What if another dentist took them? What if I don't want x-rays? These are all important and often asked questions.

What if another dentist has taken them? We will call an have them sent to us. Provided they are current, we will not need new x-rays or maybe we will need only part of a set to bring you up to date.

Are they dangerous? We want to keep your x-ray exposure at a minimum. To assure this, we use x-ray machines that have the greatest shielding that is possible; use the x-ray film that has the shortest exposure time; take as few x-rays as possible; and place a lead apron on you when taking films

A recent paper in the Academy of General Dentistry Journal reported on the level of exposure of a woman's uterus when x-rays were taken in a dental office. For a 18 film survey (we take a 10 film survey) the exposure was 0.00001 rad. Your daily exposure due to cosmic rays is 40 times greater, 0.0004 rad. For the panalipse film, exposure is 0.00015 rad, one third of one days cosmic ray exposure. You are exposed to 10,000 times more radiation from cosmic rays each year than from all your dental x-rays in 5 years. The radiation from one complete set is about the same exposure to radiation form cosmic rays you get flying form Seattle to Miami Florida in a jet.

How often should x-rays be taken? This depends on the patient. Patients who are either not brushing well or who are having a lot of decay may need x-rays as often as every 6 months. In general, however, I feel the 4 bite-wing x-rays we take of back teeth should be taken every 10 to 14 months. The complete set of 10 films and a panalipse film should be taken every 5 years. Several years ago the American Association of Pediatric Dentists, Academy of General Dentistry, and the American Dental Association set guide lines for how often film should be taken and suggested that bite-wing films should not be taken more often than every 6 months. and full sets of films no more often than every 2 years. We fall will within these guidelines.

What if a patient does not want x-rays? The guide lines I just mentioned not only set how often we should take x-rays, but also set standard of care. Standard of care is the level of care that is considered necessary. If I did not take periodic x-rays, I would not be able to know about decay, level of bone, health of bone and roots, the existence of cysts, tumors, impacted teeth. I would not be meeting the established standard of care. In short, I would not be delivering good dentistry. What all this means is I can not accept or treat a patient who refuses x-rays. If you ever have a question please ask.

Digital x-rays We now have a digital x-ray unit in the office. This allows us to get x-ray images on a TV screen. The advantage is we get the image much faster. The image is many times larger so it is easier to see for the patient and the dentist. We can manipulate the image with the computer to increase contrast, lighten or darken, colorize, shadow, or reverse colors. All this allows us to get information we may not be able to see in the conventional x-ray film. The other advantage is it takes about 1/5 as much radiation to get an image. One disadvantage is the area in the image is smaller so it is best used for single tooth images when doing endodontic treatments or when only one tooth is in question. Back to newsletter index