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X-Rays

With  the help of radiographs (the proper term for pictures taken with X-rays), your  dentist can look at what is happening beneath the visible oral tissues. Dental  X-ray examinations provide valuable information that your dentist could not  collect otherwise. They pose a far smaller risk than many undetected and  untreated dental problems. If you have questions about your dental X-ray exam,  talk with your Ottawa family dentist.

How do dental X-rays work?

When  X-rays pass through your mouth during a dental exam, more X-rays are absorbed  by the denser parts (such as teeth and bone) than by soft tissues (such as  cheeks and gums) before striking the film. This creates an image called a  radiograph. Teeth appear lighter because fewer X-rays penetrate to reach the  film. Tooth decay, infections and signs of gum disease, including changes in  the bone and ligaments holding teeth in place, appear darker because of more  X-ray penetration. Dental restorations (fillings, crowns) may appear lighter or  darker, depending on the type of material used for the restoration. The  interpretation of these radiographs allows your Ottawa family dentist to safely and  accurately detect hidden abnormalities.

How often should radiographs be taken?

How  often X-rays (radiographs) should be taken depends on the patient’s individual  health needs. It is important to recognize that just as each patient is  different form the next, so should the scheduling of X-ray exams be  individualized for each patient. Your Ottawa family dentist will review your  history, examine your mouth and then decide whether you need radiographs and  what type. If you are a new patient, the dentist may recommend radiographs to  determine the present status of the hidden areas of your mouth and to help  analyze changes that may occur later. If you have had recent radiographs at  your previous dentist, your new dentist may ask you to have the radiographs  forwarded.

The  schedule for needing radiographs at recall visits varies according to your age,  risk for disease and signs and symptoms. Recent films may be needed to detect  new cavities, or to determine the status of gum disease or for evaluation of  growth and development. Children may need X-rays more often than adults. This  is because their teeth and jaws are still developing and because their teeth  are more likely to be affected by tooth decay than those of adults.

What are the benefits of a dental radiograph examination?

Many  diseases of the teeth and surrounding tissues cannot be seen when your Ottawa family dentist examines your mouth. An  X-ray examination may reveal:

  • small areas of decay between the teeth or below existing restorations (fillings);
  • infections in the bone;
  • periodontal (gum) disease;
  • abscesses or cysts;
  • developmental abnormalities;
  • some types of tumors.

Finding  and treating dental problems at an early stage can save time, money and  unnecessary discomfort. It can detect damage to oral structures not visible  during a regular exam. If you have a hidden tumor, radiographs may even help  save your life.

How do dental X-rays compare to other sources of radiation?

We  are exposed to radiation every day from various sources, such as frequent  airplane travel and high altitudes, minerals in the soil, and appliances in our  homes (like smoke detectors and television screens).

Source Estimated Exposure (mSV*)
Dental radiographs x Bitewings (4 films) Full-mouth series (about 19 films) 0.038 0.150
Medical radiographs x Lower GI series Upper GI series Chest 4.060 2.440 0.080
Average radiation from outer space In Denver, CO (per year) 0.510
Average radiation in the U.S. from Natural sources (per year) 3.000

 Source:  Adapted from Frederiksen NL. X-Rays: What is the Risk? Texas Dental Journal. 1995;112(2):68-72

*A  millisievert (mSV) is a unit of measure that allows for some comparison between  radiation sources that expose the entire body (such as natural background  radiation) and those that only expose a portion of the body (such as  radiographs).

What if I’m pregnant and  need a dental radiograph examination?

A  radiograph may be needed for dental treatment or a dental emergency that can’t  wait until after the baby is born. Untreated dental infections can pose a risk  to the fetus, and dental treatment may be necessary to maintain the health of  the mother and child. Radiation from dental X-rays is extremely low. However,  every precaution is taken to minimize radiation exposure. A leaded apron  minimizes exposure to the abdomen and should be used when any dental radiograph  is taken. A leaded thyroid collar can protect the thyroid from radiation, and  should be used whenever possible. The use of a leaded thyroid collar is  strongly recommended for women of childbearing age, pregnant women and  children. Dental radiographs are not contraindicated if one is trying to become  pregnant or is breast feeding.