With x-rays, there’s always some degree of concern over radiation exposure. Some people argue that their dentists may be taking x-rays too frequently (citing that the ADA suggests between 2-3 years for adults with no cavities or other symptoms), while a few have argued that x-rays shouldn’t be necessary at all.
So what do the dentists say about x-rays? Are they really necessary, and why? How often should they be taken?
Here’s what the ones we asked had to say:
It is true that we do not always find things wrong every year, so why do we take x-rays? I like them because I have had so many patients that look healthy but, when I look at the x-rays, I find problems that I could not see. I have had a few patients develop cysts that were destroying bone that did not have symptoms and the only way to see it was the x-ray. Patients that don’t usually get decay can have problems in the bone or on the roots of teeth. I often like to refer back to old x-rays to see if an area has changed to determine if it is decay or something else. I would hate to practice without x-rays; I would feel like I was partially blind.
The real answer is, “At the first sign of a problem.” Unfortunately, this is often impossible to know. For instance, decay between the teeth is often invisible to the dental exam but present on the x-rays. Restoring a small cavity is MUCH easier and cheaper than the cost of a crown to restore a larger area of decay. The need varies from patient to patient, of course. Many conditions are initially visible on x-rays much before the naked eye. Tumors, abscesses, decay, and gum disease are several examples. The American Dental Association recommends bitewing x-rays (to check for decay) every 1-3 years and full mouth x-rays every 3-5 years. Patients with a lot of problems should be x-rayed every year or two, and symptom-free individuals with little or no decay every 2-4 years. Because, trust me, THINGS HAPPEN. Early diagnosis is the key to a healthy mouth and body.
Dental examinations, even with enhanced lighting and magnification, often do not reveal everything. Large cavities and bone loss from gum disease that start between teeth are revealed at the end of the roots and detected by x-ray. Hollowing out of the inside of a tooth can take place with little or no effect on the enamel.
Decay detecting x-rays as a regular practice should be taken yearly. Those with low decay rates can decrease frequency, keeping in mind that some things may not be detected solely by visual exam. Radiation exposure is very low, equivalent to a normal day of indirect sunlight exposure, and is of little consequence in comparison to the damage that can be done when decay goes undetected.
Dentists look after the health of more than just our teeth, and, as you’ve read above, x-rays are an essential tool for spotting not just tooth decay, but also problems that may be occurring in the bone that holds teeth in place. If x-rays make you nervous, consider what these dentists had to say about the kinds of problems x-rays can help them prevent through early detection.
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