Are dental x-rays safe and what are the risks?
Dental x-rays are a routine procedure that should happen once a year during your routine dental checkup. X-rays can help find problems that cannot be seen with an oral exam. Finding and treating problems early in their development may save you money, avoid discomfort (if these problems are treated at a later time) and possibly even save your life.
Basic information about dental x-rays and how they work
X-rays use electromagnetic waves (x-rays) to darken the silver on an x-ray film after they travel through soft tissue. Harder tissue like teeth and bone absorb these waves, which keeps them from reaching the film. The areas of the film that sit directly behind hard tissue remain white. This holds for all kinds of x-rays.
Dentists use x-ray imaging for several reasons:
- Decay, especially small areas of decay between teeth
- Decay beneath existing fillings
- Bone loss in the jaw
- Changes in the bone or root canal due to infection
- Condition and position of teeth to help prepare for tooth implants, braces, dentures or other dental procedures
- Abscesses (an infection at the root of a tooth or between the gum and a tooth)
- Cysts and some types of tumors
- To identify the type and nature of a bad bite
- To use for diagnosing impacted teeth
X-rays help dentists diagnose oral health issues and used to create treatment plans that cover different dental procedures.
The process of getting an x-ray
The dentist or technician will fit an apron around the patient’s torso and neck. They will have the patient bite down on a small plastic or cardboard frame that contains an x-ray film. Next, they will place the x-ray machine by the patient’s cheek and switch it on. The machine will direct x-rays towards the film in the patient’s mouth.
It’s possible to substitute x-ray film with a digital sensor that feeds the images directly into a computer.
The dentist will take one of the following types of x-ray images:
- Periapical imaging: This is a series of x-rays that show the anatomy of individual teeth, including their support structures. Dentists perform this type of x-ray on new patients
- Bitewing imaging: This type of x-ray creates a single view of the upper and lower molars
- Panoramic imaging: This type of imaging yields a single view of the structures in and around the oral cavity. This includes the teeth, jaws, and sinuses
- Occlusal x-rays: These images show the palate and mouth floor
Sometimes it takes multiple x-ray images to create some of the formats mentioned above. This means that some types of x-ray imaging take longer than others.
How long it takes to get an x-ray
It depends on how many images the dentist needs. A first-time patient who needs periapical x-rays may need between five and ten minutes from start to finish. The patient who needs an image of their molars will only need two or three minutes.
Are dental X-rays safe?
The amount of radiation emitted from X-rays is extremely small. This makes dental x-rays safe, even for pregnant women. The lead apron that covers the torso is protection enough. Advances in dentistry and federal laws require accuracy and safety checks for X-ray machines and limit the amount of radiation patients receive.
Routine dental checks are useful in monitoring your oral health and dental x-rays are an important aspect of these checks. Everyone should get an x-ray at least once a year during their routine dental visit.
Leslie Nason DDS is dedicated to taking care of your oral health to promote an overall healthier you. If you are suffering from oral health issues, Dr. Nason and her staff can help! Dr. Nason is experienced with performing many dental treatments to help her patients and get back a happy, healthy mouth. Contact us today to schedule a consultation. We look forward to seeing you soon.