Why do I need “x-rays” today?
Many patients are concerned about radiograph frequencies, fearing they are receiving too much radiation. While too much radiation is not good, I want to clarify what is too much and share some important facts about the purpose and benefits of radiographs.
Why do we need to take radiographs?
Radiographs can help dental professionals evaluate and diagnose many oral diseases and conditions. Radiographs can be used to evaluate cavities, bone levels, calculus deposits, abscesses, root apices, wisdom teeth, cysts, sinuses, growths, foreign objects, jaw joints, and/or jaw fractures. Much of what goes on in the mouth is not viewable without a radiograph. In most cases, treating patients without radiographs would be performing below the standard of care. Exceptions can be made in certain circumstances regarding pregnancy or patients who have undergone extensive radiation treatment for other reasons.
How often should radiographs be taken?
Radiograph frequencies are recommended by the American Dental Association. A “full set” of radiographs is generally 18-20 images, depending on the office. A full set is usually taken at a patient’s initial visit to the office and then every 3-5 years after. Panoramic radiographs are helpful in assessing when/if wisdom teeth need to be removed and in viewing eruption of permanent teeth in children. In these cases the dentist uses his/her clinical judgment to determine if a panoramic radiograph is necessary. “Check-up” radiographs usually consist of bitewings and anterior peri-apical radiographs. Frequency of these radiographs will vary from patient to patient but can be prescribed anywhere between 6 months and 36 months. Radiograph frequency is prescribed by the dentist based on a patient’s risk of caries or history of caries.
Am I getting too much radiation?
On average, Americans receive a radiation dose of about 0.62 rem (620 millirem) each year. We live in a radioactive world. Radiation is part of the environment and some types can’t be avoided. These include the air around us, cosmic rays, and the Earth itself. About half of our radiation dose comes from these sources. The other half of our yearly dose comes from man-made radiation sources that can include medical, commercial, and industrial sources. Medical radiographic imaging causes more radiation than dental radiographs. One dental intraoral radiograph has a radiation dose of about 0.005 rem. Similarly, a full set of radiographs at a dental office has the same amount of radiation as flying roundtrip from L.A. to New York. In this day and age many dental offices are using digital equipment to process radiographs. Digital imaging emits even less radiation (as much as 80% less) while still producing diagnostic images.
As dental professionals we are aware that patient’s are exposed to radiation. We take proper precautions and cover the neck, thyroid, and chest with a lead apron. We also make sure our radiology equipment has regular checks to ensure it is functioning properly. Radiographs are prescribed with the patient’s best interest at heart.
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