X-rays are something that have a bad reputation in dentistry. Many times, people will come in for their checkups and allow us to visually inspect their teeth, but not allow x-rays. Their reasons: a fear of radiation and the thought that x-rays are not really necessary.
X-rays are a type of radiation called electromagnetic waves. X-ray imaging creates pictures of the inside of your body, or in your mouth. The images show the parts of your teeth in different shades of black and white. This is because different tissues absorb different amounts of radiation. Very dense structure like silver fillings or crowns absorb x-rays the most, so they look white. Soft tissues and cavities absorb less, and look gray. Air absorbs the least, so space between the teeth or large holes look black.
In our office, we use only digital x-rays. What this means, is just like your digital camera, the x-ray picture appears on a computer screen almost instantly. There is no waiting for the films to be developed. The x-ray “film” is actually a sophisticated sensor. Digital sensors are more responsive than film so that less radiation is required to produce a digital image. This results in approximately 90 percent less radiation exposure. Also, unlike conventional x-rays on other parts of the body (which usually take a picture of a large area), dental x-rays are directed to a small part of the body. In fact, it’s typically shot via a cone and therefore is extremely focused. This ultra-precise targeting ensures that just a small part of the body receives the small dose of radiation. Plus, you wear a lead apron with a thyroid collar that goes around your neck, protecting you from any radiation scatter that may occur.
The radiation you get from digital dental x-rays is negligible. Dentists like to point out that you receive more radiation by just “living” than you do by going to your dentist. Dental x-rays are one of the lowest radiation-dose studies performed. A routine exam, which includes four bitewings is about 0.005 mSv, which is less than one day of natural background radiation. It is also about the same amount of radiation exposure from a short airplane flight of 1-2 hours. But the benefits of dental x-rays are huge—in most cases, we cannot see dental issues without them. With x-rays, we can catch that cavity well before you feel it—without an x-ray it could linger (painlessly, even), until the tooth becomes infected. Then, it’s generally either a root canal, or you lose the tooth. That’s a heavy price to pay for avoiding x-rays. Our office follows the guidelines set by the American Dental Association for taking x-rays. We also like to follow the ALARA principle (As Low As Reasonably Achievable), to minimize the patient’s exposure. So please do not fear dental x-rays, as they are a necessary tool that helps your dentist keep your mouth healthy and pain free.
Dr. Herbert Schneider has been recognized for his work with fellowship awards from the Academy of General Dentistry and the American Endodontic Society. He also holds a prestigious Mastership from the World Clinical Laser Institute. Dr. Rachel Jacobs joined the practice in 2006. Her calm, yet precise manner makes her a hit with both adults and children. Both doctors are certified in the uses of three different clinical lasers.
Dr. Rachel Jacobs and Dr. Herbert Schneider