Digital radiography (digital x-ray) is the latest technology used to take dental x-rays. This technique uses an electronic sensor (instead of x-ray film) that captures and stores the digital image on a computer. This image can be instantly viewed and enlarged helping the dentist and dental hygienist detect problems easier. Digital x-rays reduce radiation 80-90% compared to the already low exposure of traditional dental x-rays.
Dental x-rays are essential, preventative, diagnostic tools that provide valuable information not visible during a regular dental exam. Dentists and dental hygienists use this information to safely and accurately detect hidden dental abnormalities and complete an accurate treatment plan. Without x-rays, problem areas may go undetected.
Some of their main uses in pediatric dentistry include:
- Assessing the amount of space available for incoming teeth.
- Checking whether primary teeth are being shed in good time for adult teeth to emerge.
- Evaluating the progression of bone disease.
- Monitoring and diagnosing tooth decay.
- Planning treatment (especially orthodontic treatment).
- Revealing bone injuries, abscesses, and tumors.
- Revealing impacted wisdom teeth.
Dental x-rays may reveal:
- Abscesses or cysts.
- Bone loss.
- Cancerous and non-cancerous tumors.
- Decay between the teeth.
- Developmental abnormalities.
- Poor tooth and root positions.
- Problems inside a tooth or below the gum line.
Detecting and treating dental problems at an early stage may save you time, money, unnecessary discomfort, and your teeth!
Are dental x-rays safe?
We are all exposed to natural radiation in our environment. Digital x-rays produce a significantly lower level of radiation compared to traditional dental x-rays. Not only are digital x-rays better for the health and safety of the patient, they are faster and more comfortable to take, which reduces your time in the dental office. Also, since the digital image is captured electronically, there is no need to develop the x-rays, thus eliminating the disposal of harmful waste and chemicals into the environment.
Even though digital x-rays produce a low level of radiation and are considered very safe, dentists still take necessary precautions to limit the patient’s exposure to radiation. These precautions include only taking those x-rays that are necessary, and using lead apron shields to protect the body.
How often should dental x-rays be taken?
The need for dental x-rays depends on each patient’s individual dental health needs. Your dentist and dental hygienist will recommend necessary x-rays based upon the review of your medical and dental history, a dental exam, signs and symptoms, your age, and risk of disease.
A full mouth series of dental x-rays is recommended for new patients. A full series is usually good for three to five years. Bite-wing x-rays (x-rays of top and bottom teeth biting together) are taken at recall (check-up) visits and are recommended once or twice a year to detect new dental problems.
When will my child need dental X-rays?
Individual circumstances dictate how often a child needs to have dental radiographs taken. Children at higher-than-average risk of childhood tooth decay (as determined by the pediatric dentist) may need biannual radiographs to monitor changes in the condition of the teeth. Likewise, children who are at high risk for orthodontic problems, for example, malocclusion, may also need sets of radiographs taken more frequently for monitoring purposes.
Children at average or below average risk for tooth decay and orthodontic problems should have a set of dental X-rays taken every one to two years. Even in cases where the pediatric dentist suspects no decay at all, it is still important to periodically monitor tooth and jaw growth – primarily to ensure there is sufficient space available for incoming permanent teeth.
If the oral region has been subject to trauma or injury, the pediatric dentist may want to X-ray the mouth immediately. Developments in X-ray technology mean that specific areas of the mouth can be targeted and X-rayed separately, reducing the amount of unnecessary X-ray exposure.
What precautions will be taken to ensure my child’s safety?
Though dental radiographs are perfectly safe for use on children, the pediatric dentist will take several precautions to ensure the X-ray process does not unduly damage the child’s cells and bodily tissues.
First, the child will be covered in a lead apron to protect the body from unnecessary exposure. Second, the dentist will use shields to protect the parts of the face that are not being X-rayed. Finally, the pediatric dentist will use high-speed film to reduce radiation exposure as much as possible.
If you have questions or concerns about dental radiographs or X-rays, please contact your pediatric dentist.