What happens when I take a dental x-ray?
At Brian Jackson Dental, we use digital dental x-rays. This type of x-ray uses a very small amount of electromagnetic radiation to capture an image of your teeth and their surrounding structures.
How x-rays work:
The sensor will penetrate each part of the tooth, tissue and bone differently. Denser areas– such as amalgam fillings and other restorations – will block most of the photons and appear white, while teeth and tissue will show in shades of gray. Tooth decay will appear darker than the surrounding area due to its decreased density.
Why do I need x-rays?
Without x-rays, dentists are limited in what they can see and may miss catching a problem early enough for it to be successfully treated. The following dental problems can only be diagnosed through x-rays (also called radiographs):
- cavities between the teeth, bone infections
- types of benign and malignant tumors
- bone loss
- impacted wisdom teeth.
Types of X-rays
There are many types of x-rays, each with a different purpose and recommended frequency. This will vary depending on the patient and the situation, but generally, the ones we like to have for our patients are:
Panoramic x-ray: This image gives us a good view of all the soft and hard tissue in your mouth. It is the primary way a dentist can assess any potential bone loss and the health of your wisdom teeth. We like to update this x-ray every 5 years.
Bitewing x-rays: These are cavity detection x-rays that allow the doctors to see in between your back teeth, one of the most common spots for cavities to develop. We like to get a set of these every year, and they’re comprised of a quick 2 images on each side.
Periapical x-ray: Sometimes, the doctor just needs a focused image of a single or few teeth, whether because they see something suspicious or because the patient is experiencing discomfort. This single shot gives them a clear view of the tooth from root to tip.
Concerned about radiation?
This is by far the most frequent complaint we hear, and also the biggest myth. Today radiation exposure from x-rays is minimal. The United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission estimates that the average person is exposed to roughly 620 millirem per year, which has been judged to be perfectly safe for humans (of which half comes from natural sources).
In contrast, a single digital dental x-ray is about 0.1 millirem.
Examples to help you see a comparison:
Two hours in a jet plane = 1 millirem
Living in a brick house = 7 millirem per year
Smoking a pack of cigarettes a day = 36 millirem a year
Breast mammogram (per breast) = 42 millirem