WHAT ARE X-RAYS AND WHY ARE THEY NEEDED
WHAT IS AN X-RAY?
X-rays are forms of radiant energy (hence the term - radiation), similar to visible light. The difference between light and x-rays is that light does not have enough energy to go through your body and x-rays do. Light can make a photograph of the "outside" of objects; X-rays make pictures (radiographs) of the "inside" of objects.
ARE DENTAL RADIOGRAPHS REALLY NECESSARY?
YES! Many diseases, lesions, and conditions can only be detected with the use of dental radiographs. It is impossible to see directly between teeth, inside of teeth or look at the bone under the teeth and gums without the use of a dental radiograph. Most times a patient has no outward signs or symptoms that a problem is present. Without the use of dental radiographs, we can only detect what we see. Would you want a pain in your leg treated with a full cast because the Orthopedic specialist didn't take x-rays to determine what was wrong; and then, if the leg was actually broken, how could they treat you without knowing exactly where and how badly broken the bone really was?
HOW OFTEN SHOULD DENTAL RADIOGRAPHS BE TAKEN?
We prescribe dental x-rays based upon the individual needs of each patient. As a general rule, I feel it is necessary to do a radiographic exam of the entire mouth approximately every 3 years (a panoramic radiograph) and to check for decay between teeth, and the health of the supporting bone, once a year (bite-wing radiographs). These frequencies are adequate for most patients, but not all. For example, a patient with a high tooth decay rate, or gum disease, will need x-rays more frequently than a patient without such disease history. Conversely, a patient who has rarely needed a filling, and has completely healthy gums, may only need x-rays every other year. I always weigh the benefits of disease detection against the risk of radiation exposure.
CAN I REFUSE X-RAYS AND BE TREATED WITHOUT THEM?
Treatment without the necessary radiographs is not recommended for your oral health and well-being. Decisions about the need for any treatment become complete guesses without radiographs (see the broken leg example above). If a patient refuses to have the prescribed x-rays taken, we reserve our right to refuse to provide patient care.
The standard unit of x-ray radiation level measurement that was used by the media covering the Japan Tsunami / Nuclear Reactor disaster is the milli-sievert (mSv). We are all exposed to unavoidable radiation from natural sources all the time. These sources include solar energy, the atmosphere, and the earth itself. On average, everyone on earth is exposed to 3.0 mSv of natural "background" radiation each year. This does not include the man-made radiation we are exposed to every day such as electromagnetic radiation from cell phones, microwave ovens, TVs, computers and even light bulbs.
As a way to compare the amount of radiation our patients receive from the prescribed x-rays, we have put together some comparisons to help you understand more about radiation levels:
1 Panoramic radiograph = 2 days of natural background radiation
4 bitewing radiographs = 4 days of natural background radiation
1 chest x-ray = 10 days of natural background radiation
So, 1 chest x-ray = 10 panoramic x-rays or 20 individual dental x-rays
1 year of natural background radiation is equivalent to 30 chest x-rays, or 600 dental x-rays.
But how does this compare to other sources of radiation that we have no control over? Relating this to the catastrophe in Japan, a single dose of radiation that causes acute radiation sickness is 1000 mSV, which is equal to taking 200,000 dental x-rays at one time.
Exposure to radiation is a concern that we never take lightly, however the amount of radiation that is used for dental health diagnosis is considered to be negligible by all studies. We will always consider you individually when making decisions about providing you with the best care possible.
Leading Edge Dental Center
Michael A. Goone, DDS
4355 W. Howard Street
Skokie, IL 60076